Television presenter Sonia Kruger is being held up by Australia's far-right as a free speech hero, after a racial vilification complaint was filed over her 2016 call to end Muslim migration.
Kruger made the comments two years ago in July 2016 on the Nine Network's Today Show during a panel discussion on Muslim migration. She called for Australia to stop Muslim migration and said there was a correlation between the number of terror attacks in a country and the number of Muslim people who lived there.
Referencing a column from News Corp commentator Andrew Bolt, Kruger said: "Personally I would like to see [Muslim migration] stopped now for Australia. Because I want to feel safe, as all of our citizens do, when they go out to celebrate Australia Day."
TV host Lisa Wilkinson: But just to clarify Sonia, are you saying that you would like our borders closed to Muslims at this point?
Kruger: Yes I would. I would. Because I think at this point...
Wilkinson: Which is the Donald Trump approach.
Kruger: I think we have something like 500,000 now in our country and I... Well perhaps it is... but for the safety of the citizens here, I think it's important.
Following a backlash Kruger released a statement saying that "as a mother" she believed it was vital to be able to discuss these sorts of things without being called racist.
Despite Kruger’s wish to be able to call for an end to Muslim migration without being called racist, that's not how it unfolded.
Muslim man Sam Ekermawi filed a racial vilification complaint against Kruger in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). The Nine Network applied to have the complaint thrown out before it even got to a hearing, arguing, among other things, that Muslim Australians are not a race.
But the tribunal disagreed. It found in May that Ekermawi’s argument – Muslims in Australia have an “ethno-religious origin” and can therefore be considered a race under the law – should at least get a chance to be heard at a hearing.
Nine also said that Ekermawi had been part of 22 previous vilification complaints, describing him as a “serial litigant who has had little success”. The tribunal said this didn't make a difference to whether it heard the complaint.
As the legal case has developed – and especially since the tribunal ruled it would go ahead – Australia's far-right activists have clung to the television host, fashioning her as the latest person to be persecuted for speaking her mind.
Far-right social media provocateur Avi Yemini has been the most vocal of Kruger's supporters, hosting rallies outside of court and drumming up support on his Facebook page.
Last week, Yemini hosted a Facebook live video of himself and a group of Kruger-supporters holding signs and Australian flags on Sydney's streets. Yemini was joined by Debbie Robinson, the president of fringe political party the Australian Liberty Alliance.
"People in this country have to realise there is a war on free speech," said a megaphone-armed Robinson.
Yemini, a former IDF-soldier and Melbourne gym owner, has also confronted Ekermawi's supporters in a recent video, "passing on a message" that if Ekermawi "wants blasphemy in Australia he should go back to the shit-hole he came from".
South Australian senator Cory Bernardi's Australian Conservatives party has also been supportive of Kruger on social media, contributing to the storm of #istandwithsonia content that has recently flooded Twitter and Facebook.
One of Australia's largest right wing Facebook pages, Freedom of Speech Productions, is also backing Kruger. The page's 140,000+ followers have been inundated with Kruger content, with images in support of the television host picking up hundreds of shares.
Elsewhere on Facebook, the I Stand With Sonia Kruger support page has over 50,000 likes – with an ambitious goal of one million.
And finally, Kruger has also received plenty of support on Gab, a far-right social network that has as a goal free speech at all costs.
Australia's Gab community is still relatively small, but that hasn't stopped supporters circling in an echo chamber of encouragement, as they did for far-right free speech martyrs such as British anti-Muslim activist and convicted criminal (assault, mortgage fraud, using someone else's passport to enter the US) Tommy Robinson.
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Brad Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
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