'He's not in detention, he's in prison': Djokovic's father says the tennis star has been ‘crucified’

Credit: Australia Channel 9

The controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic's row with Australian authorities as he awaits the decision on his deportation appeal has intensified after the tennis star's father claimed the world number one has been made a scapegoat and been “crucified”.

The Serbian is awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the decision by the Australian Border Force (ABF) to cancel the reigning Australian Open champion’s entry visa and deport him. The tournament had granted him a medical exemption from being vaccinated against Covid-19, allowing him to travel to Melbourne to compete in the Australian Open.

With his appeal adjourned until 10am on Monday, Djokovic is being detained at the Park Hotel, a state-run quarantine facility in Melbourne which has also housed asylum seekers.

A van, believed to be carrying Djokovic, arrives at a hotel in Melbourne and is met by health workers in protective gear.

Many Australians had expressed their upset at the tennis player's alleged skirting of the rules while citizens of Melbourne have endured the world's longest cumulative lockdown as well as a surge in Covid infections.But Djokovic's fans have stuck by the star.

In Belgrade, Djokovic’s father Srdjan demonstrated outside the National Assembly buildings and addressed a media conference to highlight what the Serbian’s family and his supporters perceived to be an injustice Down Under. “He met all the required conditions for the entry and participation at the tournament that he would have certainly won, since it’s Novak, the best tennis player and sportsman in the world,” Srdjan Djokovic told a press conference on Thursday. “Jesus was crucified and endured many things, but is still alive among us. Novak is also crucified… He will endure”.

Djokovic's father Srdjan speaks during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on Thursday. Credit: AP

Srdjan Djokovic had also claimed that his son was being singled out unfairly. “Novak and his team filed the same documents as 25 other tennis players (who received exemptions) and they didn’t have any problems, just Novak,” Djokovic senior said in an interview broadcast by Sky News. “They wanted to humiliate him. They could have said ‘don’t come Novak’ and that would have been okay. But no, they wanted to humiliate him and they’re still keeping him in prison. “He’s not in detention, he’s in prison. They took all of his stuff, even his wallet, they left him with just his phone and no change of clothes, nowhere to wash his face".

Supporters of Serbia's Novak Djokovic gather to protest his deportation from Australia. Credit: AP

The tennis star's wife expressed her gratitude to fans for "using your voice to send love to my husband”.

In Instagram and Twitter posts marking Christmas in Serbia, Jelena Djokovic wrote: “I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening. “The only law that we should all respect across every single border is Love and respect for another human being. “Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force. Wishing you all well!”

Also stating his support, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic claimed Djokovic was the victim of “political persecution” by the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and others in the country’s government, calling on them to move him from the “horrific hotel” where he is being detained - and into a private rented house.

Djokovic has spoken in the past about his opposition to vaccination, and posted on social media before setting off for the Australian Open to say he had received “exemption permission” to enter the country. The ABF, though, refused to let the 34-year-old in, saying he had failed to provide appropriate evidence to justify the exemption.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Channel 9 News: “A visa was granted for entry, but that does not guarantee entry. “He (Djokovic), along with any other individual who is seeking to enter Australia, also has to meet the entry requirements which at this point includes medical evidence of vaccination or alternatively medical reasons why that individual cannot be vaccinated.

“He hasn’t met the entry requirements – there is a lot of chatter about the visa, but that in my understanding is not the issue, it is the entry requirements…. that he was not able to produce the evidence which was needed for entry into Australia”.

Andrews added the ABF was also now investigating other players who may have already entered the country using a similar medical exemption to which Djokovic had claimed on his visa. None, expect Djokovic, who posted it himself on social media, have been publicly identified.

Andrews maintained Djokovic was not being detained under duress. Speaking to ABC, she said: “(He) is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that. “We treat all people who are in immigration detention fairly, equitably”.