An organiser of an anti-lockdown rally planned for Saturday has been granted bail after a court heard he secretly buried his mobile phone in his solicitor's front yard and told police he may continue to organise protests.
Police have urged protesters to be "less selfish and a bit more grown up" ahead of a "freedom walk" rally planned for the Tan track on Saturday.
Protesters at last weekend’s anti-lockdown rally.Credit:Justin McManus
Noting that it was the third time in two weeks he has addressed the media about anti-lockdown rallies Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said on Friday it was “incredibly frustrating” to have to continuously urge people not to attend the protests.
“To be honest, I feel a bit like a dog returning to eat his own vomit. None of us want to do that and I’m sick of it, really,” he said.
“If people still choose to ignore warnings … they should be prepared for a strong policing presence in the city and surrounding areas.”
His warning came as Tony Pecora, 43 – a former candidate for Clive Palmer's United Australia Party – appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video link from St Kilda Police station after his arrest on two counts of incitement.
Tony Pecora.Credit:United Australia Party
Detective acting Senior Sergeant David Schaefer told the court Mr Pecora, who runs a sustainable energy company, used an online alias to create anti-lockdown protest events on Facebook, including Saturday's planned protest at the Tan.
"He believes that COVID-19 is a genetically engineered virus created by world banks to kill off weaker humans,” Senior SergeantSchaefer said.
“[Asked how he would feel] if a person at his rally contracted COVID-19 and died, he stated that ‘it would be better to die on your feet than live on your knees’; a term used in a Midnight Oil song.”
The court heard police first arrested Mr Pecora for alleged breaches of the Chief Health Officer's directions during a protest at the Shrine of Remembrance on August 22.
On September 2, police then visited his Middle Park home after learning Mr Pecora allegedly planned on attending another protest on September 5.
Senior Sergeant Schaefer said officers warned the 43-year-old against attending but five days later Victoria Police's monitoring and assessment centre began infiltrating the online "Melbourne Walk For Freedom" Facebook event and allegedly found Mr Pecora was an administrator.
There, under the online alias Arkwell Tripelligo, he allegedly claimed to be a "combatant in the game of geopolitical chess” and called for others to unite against the “forces of darkness” before demanding Premier Daniel Andrews be arrested for treason.
On Thursday police executed a search warrant on Mr Pecora's home and seized two computer tablets in the presence of his wife and child.
Senior Sergeant Schaefer said Mr Pecora then drove to see his solicitor in St Kilda where he attempted to hand his phone over for safekeeping.
"The solicitor refused to accept the mobile phone so [Mr Pecora] buried the phone in the solicitor’s front yard without the solicitor's knowledge,” the officer said.
The court heard that during his subsequent police interview, Mr Pecora told police he'd created an online pseudonym to express his political views without being identified.
“He believes the number of COVID-19 cases is highly exaggerated by geopolitical power seeking to control people," Senior Sergeant Schaefer said.
In opposing bail, police said Mr Pecora's alleged offending posed a "serious risk" to public health and his preparedness to attend rallies could result in deaths.
But Mr Pecora’s lawyer Christopher Wareham argued the police push to keep his client in custody was nothing but "preventative detention" with a monetary fine the maximum penalty for the charges. He said continuing to lock up his client would be unjustified.
"He didn't do anything but encourage others to gather," Mr Wareham said.
"He's entitled to have a view about COVID-19."
Magistrate Felicity Broughton granted Mr Pecora bail on a raft of conditions including restrictions to his movement and online activity.
The bail conditions include not planning or attending any mass gatherings, not attend the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Shrine or Parliament, providing police with the details of his computers and electronic devices, and removing himself as an administrator of the Melbourne “freedom” protest events on social media.
He must also reside at his bayside home during curfew hours. Mr Pecora is due to return to court on September 25.
Police have spoken to a number of people who have shown interest in attending protests planned for Saturday and Sunday and warned them not to go.
A “spectrum” of people who believe in a range of different ideologies have been involved in the protests and are using it as an opportunity to advance their agenda, Mr Cornelius said.
“We are issue blind on this. This isn’t about targeting particular group groups and ideologies. What we are on about is stopping breaches of the law.”
Protesters and police clashed at an anti-lockdown protest at the Shrine last Saturday.
Police, who estimated that about 200 people attended, issued more than 180 fines and 17 people were arrested during the demonstration.
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