Amid the ongoing storm over the detention of the Serbian tennis star in an immigration hotel in Australia, his many supporters back home in Serbia and in Montenegro have been on the streets voicing their support.
A supporter of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic holds a banner reading ‘Freedom for no.1 tennis Novak’ during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC
Hundreds of people In the Montenegrin towns of Niksic, Berane and Budva gathered on Friday to voice support for Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, who is detained in a hotel in Australia after being refused entry.
Djokovic is being held at Carlton’s Park Hotel in Melbourne while he mounts a legal challenge to the government’s decision to deny him entry to the country for this month’s Australian Open.
Carrying banners and pictures of Djokovic, the protesters in Montenegro called on the Australian government to release him.
“I want to congratulate Novak for testifying and declaring that he is a free man, and that is the greatest title he has ever won. Success did not capture him and his human freedom,” the mayor of the town of Niksic, Marko Kovacevic, told media on Friday.
A similar, larger protest was held on Thursday in the Serbian capital, Belgarde, where hundreds led by Djokovic’s family voiced their anger. The player’s father told a press conference that his son could not be defeated “by anyone, not even the Australian government”.
Due to his COVID-19 vaccination status, the 34-year-old star has been confined to an immigration detention hotel waiting for a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open this month.
Djokovic, a vocal sceptic about vaccines, had travelled to Australia after the Victoria state authorities granted him a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination requirements.
But when he arrived on Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.
A court hearing on his bid to avoid deportation is set for Monday, a week before the season’s first major tennis tournament is set to begin.
On Thursday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his government had asked that Djokovic be allowed to move to a house he has rented and not to be held “in that infamous hotel”. Vucic said he also spoke with Djokovic, and believed he has been treated differently from other players.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and [we] are doing everything to see the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end. In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice,” Vucic said.
On Thursday, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije said he also spoke with Djokovic, offering him the church’s support ahead of the Orthodox Christmas celebration.
“Novak, you know who you are and millions of orthodox Serbs are praying for you. From the troubles and temptations that pass on Christmas, tomorrow only a pale shadow remains,” the Patriarch posted on Instagram.
The Serbian professional tennis player is one of the most successful athletes ever in the Balkans and is currently ranked No 1 on the Association of Tennis Professionals list.
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