When 40-year-old Adelaide father of four Mehmet Erhan missed a COVID test in October last year and was arrested at his home in the middle of the night by a group of armed police, key figures in the “freedom movement” pricked up their ears.
It was the perfect fodder for anti-government, anti-lockdown content to be shared on social media: alleged police brutality inflicted over a minor issue relating to a virus they claim is largely harmless.
Erhan, a former tradie who admits to a chequered past with the law, was arrested and charged with two counts of breaching a health order. Unable to access legal aid due to his ownership of an apartment – even though he was 12 months behind in repayments – he started an online crowd-fund to help cover his legal costs.
But even after he recorded an online interview with Monica Smit, the founder of Australia’s largest anti-lockdown group, Reignite Democracy Australia, Erhan’s appeal raised only $1600 of the $7000 he claims he needed. Then another arm of the anti-lockdown movement took up his cause.
“Someone advised me to get in contact with Rebel News because they fund lawyers for this sort of thing,” Erhan says.
What followed left Erhan feeling worse. Canada-based right-wing commentary website Rebel News, the employer of Australian “correspondent” Avi Yemini, a former Israel Defence Forces member turned activist, required him to sign a contract with them, then asked its hundreds of thousands of online supporters to help fund the legal fight. This was to be paid into Rebel News’ “Fight the Fines” project fund, not Erhan’s own GoFundMe account.
Then, after a dispute over legal representation, Rebel News cut ties. They say they exercised their rights under the contract to discontinue the relationship as Erhan had “routinely switched lawyers” and not acted in good faith.
Almost six months later, Erhan’s case remains on the Rebel News website. He still has no idea how much was raised for his cause, nor where it now is. He is facing a court case with $10,000 in bills and no lawyer.
As tens of thousands of committed protesters take to the streets weekly to protest vaccine mandates, COVID-19 restrictions and Victoria’s pandemic legislation, the so-called “freedom” movement has given rise to a core group of self-styled leaders who have developed large, ardent and …….