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Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation once again after Australia's immigration minister used his powers to tear up Djokovic's visa. The player's lawyers moved to dispute the issue in court.
The Australian government on Friday canceled Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time, saying the Serbian tennis star may pose a risk to the community as he is unvaccinated for COVID-19.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary power to revoke Djokovic's visa days after a court overturned an earlier cancellation of his visa and ordered his release from immigration detention in Melbourne.
"Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so," the minister said in a statement.
The government "is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic," Hawke said.
Djokovic was first denied entry to Australia last week. He claims to have tested positive for COVID-19 on December 16 and therefore does not need a coronavirus vaccine to enter the country.
Just hours after the decision was made public, Djokovic's lawyers asked for an injunction against his deportation from Australia.
Later Friday, circuit court judge Anthony Kelly said Djokovic's case would be transferred to Australia's federal court.
A decision on whether to deport the tennis star could come Sunday, one day before the Australian Open is set to begin. Djokovic's appeal against the visa decision will be heard Sunday morning.
The nine-time Australian Open champion has already successfully overturned his first visa cancelation in court.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also commented on the situation, saying that "Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected."
Djokovic had been asked to attend a meeting with immigration officials on Saturday, and will remain out of detention until then, local media reported.
The minister's decision came a day after he was confirmed in the official draw for the Australian Open men's tournament. The tournament is due to start on Monday.
The tennis world No. 1 could now be deported from the country. If that happens, Djokovic would also be banned from coming to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances that affect Australia's interest.
The case has polarized opinions and prompted a discussion on the rights of unvaccinated people worldwide.
When Djokovic announced his plans to travel to Australia with a medical exemption earlier this month, many Australians responded with anger and frustration.
Australia, and Melbourne in particular, has witnessed some of the strictest lockdowns over the last two years, in order to ward off the virus.
Critics not only targeted Djokovic for being unvaccinated, but also blamed the Australian government's handling of the situation.
The controversy has even strained diplomatic ties between Canberra and Belgrade. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Morrison and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabic had spoken one-on-one to discuss the situation.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australia of "mistreating" Djokovic on Friday.
In an Instagram video, Vucic asked: "Why are you mistreating him, why are you taking it out not only on him but also on his family and the whole nation."
"Do you need to win some elections?" Vucic asked. "Novak, we are with you."
The 34-year-old tennis star has overwhelming support in his home country.
adi, rm/dj, wd (AP, Reuters)