Police investigate after Age photographer capsicum-sprayed during Melbourne protest

The conduct of some Victoria Police is being investigated after a newspaper photographer was pepper sprayed and video was published online showing a woman being pushed to the ground and sprayed by an officer at a violent anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne at the weekend.

Police confirmed its Professional Standards Command was investigating after a photographer from The Age newspaper was pepper-sprayed while covering the anti-lockdown protest on Saturday.

More than 230 people were arrested and 10 police officers injured after as many as 700 protestors converged on the streets of Richmond in Melbourne’s inner-east.

The Age said it would lodge a formal complaint over the incident.

It has reported that its photographer, Luis Ascui, was sprayed directly in the eyes while photographing the rally on Saturday afternoon, despite identifying himself as a media representative.

Victoria Police it was “aware of an incident where a media photographer was sprayed with OC foam while covering Saturday’s protest”.

“We acknowledge the media plays an important role in covering events of significant public interest.

“We understand they have an important role to play in reporting on these matters and liaise with the media to assist where we can.

The statement said Saturday’s protest “was a highly dynamic and hostile situation and at times it can be difficult to distinguish between protesters and media representatives”.

Bottles and stones were thrown at some officers during the protest, and Police Commander Mark Galliott said others were trampled, suffering broken bones and severe facial injuries, including a broken nose.

Six police officers who were taken to hospital after being injured on Saturday have all since been released.

Police union says officers were scapegoats

Yesterday, following the officers’ injuries, Victoria’s police union said it would discuss changing protocols for future protest activity.

It said it feared police had “become the punching bags” for frustrated Victorians in lockdown looking for a target.

The union defended the use of force, saying it was justified under extreme circumstances.

Victoria Police had taken the extraordinary move to suspend public transport into the CBD for six hours on Saturday in a bid to prevent thousands of people gathering and creating a COVID-19 superspreader event.

Videos have circulated on social media showing a woman being doused in capsicum spray after she was pushed to the ground by an officer, drawing questions about whether all officers used proportionate force.

Mr Gatt said police officers on Saturday were scapegoats for aggression, initially directed towards the Victorian government over its COVID-19 restrictions.

“Police have become the physical target for this violence, but they’re not the ideological target. Governments are the ideological target, yet it’s our members that become the punching bags for this,” he said.

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