Novak Djokovic’s parents have joined a protest rally in the Serbian capital Belgrade as the tennis star awaits a court hearing which could decide whether he can play at the Australian Open.

The virtual hearing in Melbourne, with Djokovic appealing against his visa cancellation, comes amid a growing public debate over a positive coronavirus test that his lawyers used as grounds in applying for a medical exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules.

Djokovic has been detained in a Melbourne hotel used to house refugees since his unsuccessful bid to enter Australia last Wednesday, where he was denied entry on the basis he was unvaccinated and did not have a valid exemption.    

Dijana (centre) and Srdjan (right) were among members of the Djokovic family protesting in Belgrade

Dijana (centre) and Srdjan (right) were among members of the Djokovic family protesting in Belgrade

Dijana (centre) and Srdjan (right) were among members of the Djokovic family protesting in Belgrade

Dozens of people attended the protest outside the National Assembly in Belgrade on Sunday

Dozens of people attended the protest outside the National Assembly in Belgrade on Sunday

Dozens of people attended the protest outside the National Assembly in Belgrade on Sunday

Protesters demanded Djokovic's release from Australian immigration custody at the demo

Protesters demanded Djokovic's release from Australian immigration custody at the demo

Protesters demanded Djokovic’s release from Australian immigration custody at the demo

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at a booth of the Australian Border Force at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, on January 5

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at a booth of the Australian Border Force at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, on January 5

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at a booth of the Australian Border Force at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, on January 5

Djokovic argues that a recent COVID-19 infection qualified him for the medical exemption from the country’s requirement for all visitors to be double vaccinated. 

The Australian government, however, said non-citizens had no right of guaranteed entry to Australia and stressed that even if the Serbian won the court action, it reserved the right to detain him again and remove him from the country. 

The court hearing was set to take place at 10am local time on Monday (11pm GMT on Sunday) in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, with members of the public able to watch via a live-stream. But there were some initial technical difficulties. 

Djokovic is expected to watch from the former Park Hotel, a five-storey facility that holds about 32 migrants trapped in Australia’s hardline immigration system – some for years on end. 

The Australian Open begins on January 17 — just a week from Djokovic’s court date.

The case has polarised opinion around the world and elicited heartfelt support for the tennis star in his native Serbia.

‘Today is a big day. Today, the whole world will hear the truth,’ Djokovic’s mother Dijana Djokovic told the crowd in Belgrade.

‘We hope that Novak will come out as a free man. We send great love to Novak. We believe in him, but also in the independent judiciary in Melbourne,’ she said.

Djokovic’s father Srdjan Djokovic said ‘this is happening because we are only a small part of the world, but we are proud people’.

The family were joined by hundreds of supporters, including the UK’s former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, in Belgrade, with the ex politician saying he was waiting for the result of the visa hearing with Djokovic’s relatives.

Demonstrators also took to the streets in Melbourne - using Djokovic's incarceration in the deportation hotel to highlight conditions there

Demonstrators also took to the streets in Melbourne - using Djokovic's incarceration in the deportation hotel to highlight conditions there

Demonstrators also took to the streets in Melbourne – using Djokovic’s incarceration in the deportation hotel to highlight conditions there

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic's father Srdjan Djokovic (centre) poses with a fan holding a painting of Novak Djokovic during a rally in front of Serbia's National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic's father Srdjan Djokovic (centre) poses with a fan holding a painting of Novak Djokovic during a rally in front of Serbia's National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan Djokovic (centre) poses with a fan holding a painting of Novak Djokovic during a rally in front of Serbia’s National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

Supporters hold a banner reading "Let's go Nole (Novak)" with a picture of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, during a rally in front of Serbia's National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

Supporters hold a banner reading "Let's go Nole (Novak)" with a picture of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, during a rally in front of Serbia's National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

Supporters hold a banner reading “Let’s go Nole (Novak)” with a picture of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, during a rally in front of Serbia’s National Assembly, in Belgrade, on Sunday

NOVAK DJOKOVIC VISA SAGA: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW 

What happened when Djokovic arrived in Australia?

Novak Djokovic touched down in Melbourne about 11.30pm on Wednesday night, and was swiftly taken in for questioning by Border Force officials.

He spent about six hours speaking with officials before a decision was made to cancel his visa on the basis that he could not validate his medical exemption to arrive in Australia without a Covid-19 vaccine.

He was swiftly taken to a detention centre in the heart of Melbourne, where he remains. 

Why is Djokovic in court?

Immediately after his visa was cancelled, Djokovic and his team indicated they would fight the decision. 

They appeared before the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia on Thursday afternoon, where the matter was postponed until Monday, 10am.

On Monday, Djokovic’s lawyers will argue to reverse the decision to cancel the visa. The government hope to have the decision supported.

If Djokovic loses his appeal, he could be deported as early as Monday night, but it is likely to be more complex than that.

Who is responsible for the bungle?

Court documents and leaked letters have helped piece together the puzzle of how the messy visa situation occurred.

Since Djokovic was detained, officials have hand balled responsibility between themselves. 

Djokovic was informed by Tennis Australia that he was exempt to travel to Australia and play. It’s understood his application was assessed by two bodies – one assigned by TA and the other by the Victorian state government.

On Saturday night, it was revealed via court documents that Djokovic had also received correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs – a federal body – which indicated he was free to travel to Australia.

But this has been revealed to be an arrivals assessment form, and not official confirmation he was granted quarantine-free travel. 

No single party has accepted responsibility for the debacle, and at least one other tennis player has been sent home after they were initially approved with the same exemption.

Will Djokovic play in the Australian Open?

Djokovic will likely know if he will be competing in the Australian Open 2022 by 4pm Monday.

Commentators and legal experts are finding it challenging to predict an outcome for the case given it is constantly developing and has happened so quickly.

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He added: ‘They can’t break us. Novak is the personification of freedom, everything human that one man contains in himself. Shame on them!’

Mrs Djokovic said that the conditions in the hotel in Melbourne where Djokovic is staying are ‘not humane’.

‘He doesn’t even have breakfast,’ she said. ‘He has a wall to stare at and he can’t even see a park in front or go out of the room.’

During the court hearing, the 34-year-old’s lawyers will tell the court he should be allowed to remain in Australia because a recent second Covid infection made him exempt from vaccine entry requirements.

Government lawyers reject that argument saying Djokovic, a vocal sceptic of vaccines, failed to meet the medical criteria as his illness was not ‘acute’, according to a filing late Sunday.   

They will seek to have his appeal dismissed with costs, paving the way for his deportation as soon as Monday evening. 

Australian officials initially said Djokovic would be given an exemption to stringent vaccine rules by state authorities and be able to participate in the Australian Open.

But when he landed, his visa was cancelled by federal border officials.

The exemption request said Djokovic’s first positive test was on December 16 and, on the date of issue, it said the tennis player ‘had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours’. 

Yesterday, his lawyers submitted a 35-page dossier, arguing that he met the requirements for a vaccine exemption certificate due the fact he had suffered Covid last month. 

But in a 13-page court filing made public today, Australian government lawyers stated that it was ‘common ground’ between both sides of the legal fight that Djokovic is ‘unvaccinated’, Sky News reports.

Lawyers for Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the country’s vaccination exemption form makes clear that a previous infection ‘is not a contraindication to immunisation’.  

The government stated: ‘There is no suggestion that the applicant had “acute major medical illness” in December 2021. 

‘All he has said is that he tested positive for Covid… That is not the same. Thus the ATAGI Vaccination Advice uses different terms, such as mere “past infection” and also “symptomatic infection.”‘

The document adds that even if hearing is concluded in Djokovic’s favour, it does not mean he could not be re-detained or have his visa cancelled again.

‘If this Court were to make orders in the applicant’s [Djokovic] favour, it would then be for the respondent [Australian government] to administer the Act in accordance with law,’ federal lawyers stated. 

For days, demonstrators and counter-demonstrators have gathered outside the facility. Nobody is allowed in or out except staff.

Hours before the hearing, a pro-refugee banner was unfurled from the roof and police removed a small number of protestors from the scene.

A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds a signed tennis ball and a newspaper front page reading 'King Nole' during a protest of support in Belgrade

A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds a signed tennis ball and a newspaper front page reading 'King Nole' during a protest of support in Belgrade

A supporter of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic holds a signed tennis ball and a newspaper front page reading ‘King Nole’ during a protest of support in Belgrade

Reporters wait outside the Park Hotel on Sunday ahead of Djokovic's court hearing on Monday

Reporters wait outside the Park Hotel on Sunday ahead of Djokovic's court hearing on Monday

Reporters wait outside the Park Hotel on Sunday ahead of Djokovic’s court hearing on Monday 

Social media is swamped with questions over Djokovic’s whereabouts after the alleged positive Covid-19 test amid a surge of the pandemic.

Djokovic attended two public events on December 16 in Belgrade, as well as a December 17 event in the Serbian capital honouring young tennis players.

The event was covered by local media, and parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks. It is not clear if Djokovic knew the results of his test at the time.

Days later he was shown playing tennis in a park in front of his apartment in Belgrade.

‘Legally, Djokovic doesn’t have to explain what happened (after his positive test) but it would be very good for his reputation here and the whole world,’ Sasa Ozmo, a Serbian sports journalist, told the N1 television.

Source: Daily Mail

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