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UFC Fighter Criticizes Australia’s Pandemic Lockdown Measures

Outspoken U.S. mixed martial arts fighter Sean Strickland has called out the tactics deployed by Australian governments during the pandemic in the lead-up to his fight with New Zealand world champion Israel Adesanya.

Mr. Strickland will face Mr. Adesanya on Sept. 10 and will be the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event in Sydney since 2011. UFC is the largest mixed martial arts fighting promotion in the world.

During a press conference on Sept. 7, Mr. Strickland said there was something that “must be talked about.”

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“You guys did throw a pregnant woman in jail over a Facebook post during COVID. That must be talked about. Shame on you guys,” he told reporters.

“How do you feel about that? It was all over the news, how do you not know about that?” he said after the reporter said he was not aware of the incident.

Mr. Strickland was referring to the 2020 arrest of a pregnant Zoe-Lee Buhler at her home in Victoria by state police for a Facebook post regarding an upcoming protest against lockdowns.

She was charged under Victoria’s Crimes Act 1958 for pursuing a “course of conduct which will involve the commission of an offence.”

The move was criticised by the Victorian Bar, which represents the state’s barristers.

“In the case of Ms. Buhler, who was arrested and handcuffed in her home in front of her partner and children, the Bar is concerned that the enforcement action of the police—both in arresting her and handcuffing her—appeared disproportionate to the threat she presented,” said Wendy Harris Q.C., president of the Bar, in a statement.

“The Victorian Bar is concerned that the enforcement response to Ms. Buhler’s conduct is apparently at odds with other reported and more measured responses by authorities to organisers or promoters of similar protests planned or carried out in contravention of public health directives.”

Under Labor state Premier Daniel Andrews, Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, was placed under lockdown for the longest period of time compared to other cities around the world—at 262 days.

No Freedom of Speech in Australia

Meanwhile, Mr. Strickland who is no stranger to controversial statements, also remarked that he would like Australia “so much better” if it had a “freedom of speech.”

“So if you could go ahead and make a freedom of speech like the greatest country in the world [the United States], we would get along better,” he said.

“How do you not have a freedom of speech? You have a government that can say: ‘If you say something we don’t like, we will throw you in prison.'”

Australia has a freedom to political communication, which is derived from common law (legal precedent), and does not have an enshrined right to freedom of speech like the United States.

The consequence of such a design is that case law, state-based Human Rights Acts, and lawyers and judges are often needed to interpret how certain rights can be applied.

In fact, in October 2021, in a case against the New South Wales government over vaccine mandates, Justice Robert Beech-Jones even remarked that “this country does not have a bill of rights” in response to the plaintiff’s argument that state Public Health Acts did not authorise interference with a person’s rights or freedoms.

Meanwhile, the New South Wales government has stood by its decision to bring the UFC event Down Under with three events in the state over the next four years.

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