The office of the Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Australia and New Zealand has condemned Australia's decision to deport tennis star Novak Djokovic over his COVID-19 vaccination status and has requested the decision be repealed.
The statement came Jan. 16 as the world's No. 1 tennis player lost a court appeal to overturn an earlier government decision to cancel his visa," said the church's office.
"This matter distresses us deeply as it goes further than simply encroaching on one's right to freedom of speech, or even freedom of thought," said the statement from the church, which has a strong following from Australians of Serbian descent.
"In short, Novak is being forcibly removed from Australia because there is a suspicion that because he may be unvaccinated and declined to disclose his vaccination status, that it may lead to civil unrest."
The church said there are no grounds to believe that allowing Djokovic to stay would, or even may, lead to civil unrest as authorities had suggested.
It said, "notably, the government has not provided any evidence to substantiate their claim that allowing Novak to stay would do so."
The church statement noted that Australia's Minister for Immigration, Alex Hawke, decided to exercise his power under the country's Migration Act to cancel Djokovic's visa, on the basis that it was "in the public interest to do so."
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge Australian Federal Court bench and deportation prevents Djokovic from the chance to claim a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open that started on Jan. 17.
"We request that Mr. Hawke, as an exercise of good sense reassess, the Ministry's position and repeal the decision to cancel Novak's visa immediately. We trust that a written apology would also go a long way to remedying this mess," said the church.
"Being kept in isolation, having one's phone confiscated, being stripped of any means of communication, and subjected to an on-the-spot interrogation in the small hours of the morning after a 25-hour flight is treatment most would deem unfit for most fugitives."
It said it wished to remind Hawke and the Australian Government that Djokovic "is a professional tennis player, not a racketeer."
In 2011, Serbian Patriarch Irinej in the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade awarded Djokovic the order of St. Sava of the First Degree.
In the citation the patriarchate says, "On proposal of His Grace Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren, the glorified Serbian tennis player was awarded with the highest distinction of the Serbian Orthodox Church for his active love towards the Mother Church, particularly showed fervent and persistent helping the Serbian people and the sanctuaries of our Holy Church, especially in Kosovo and Metohija."