SYDNEY (Reuters) - World Youth Day in Sydney this month is the Catholic church’s Woodstock, five days of love, peace and Christianity overseen by the Pope, but civil liberties leaders say police will be using “repugnant” anti-protest powers.
Police powers for all of July have been increased to allow them to arrest and fine people A$5,000 (US$4,800) for causing annoyance or inconvenience to participants in World Youth Day, which runs from July 15-20, and permit partial strip searches.
The laws have the potential to make a crime of things such as wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Catholic message, handing out condoms at protests, or even playing music, said critics.
President of the New South Wales Bar (NSW) Association, Anna Katzmann, said on Tuesday that the increased powers were repugnant and infringed on civil liberties.
“They are repugnant for two reasons. First of all the government has by-passed the normal parliamentary scrutiny...and secondly they are an unreasonable interference with people’s freedom of speech and movement,” Katzmann told reporters. NSW state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the extra powers were necessary to ensure security for the event, which organizers say could attract 500,000 pilgrims, and for Pope Benedict’s first visit to Australia.
Organizers say the event will be bigger than the Sydney Olympics and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit in the city and have advised workers to take holidays to avoid the congestion from road closures and mass people marches as they attend a papal mass and services.
The extra police powers will apply to 40 city locations, including museums, galleries, cinemas, parks, and venues where the Pope will appear. More than 500 schools and 35 train and bus stations have been listed as “declared areas” where people entering will be subject to car and baggage searches that require them to remove jackets, shoes and headwear if requested.
The only people who have threatened to protest World Youth Day and the papal visit are a group critical of the Catholic church’s views on homosexuals, contraception and abortion. The group has said it will protest by handing out condoms to pilgrims as they gather for the papal mass.
Victims of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic church in Australia are calling on the Pope to publicly apologize for the abuse, just as he did in the United States earlier this year, but at this stage they have not said they will protest.
Editing by Valerie Lee