Strangers have raised thousands of dollars to cover the legal fees of a pregnant mother after she was arrested over an anti-lockdown social media post.
Zoe Lee Buhler, 28, was wearing pyjamas as she was handcuffed in front of her children in her Ballarat lounge room, north-west of Melbourne, on Wednesday afternoon.
She was charged with incitement after creating a Facebook protest event against Daniel Andrew’s draconian lockdown in Victoria.
Buhler’s brother Jordan created a GoFundMe page to raise money for her legal fees and fine.
Zoe Buhler, 28, was handcuffed in her lounge room in front of her children on Wednesday afternoon and charged with incitement
Buhler’s brother Jordan created a GoFundMe page to raise money for her legal fees and fine. The page raised more than $8,600 before it was taken down
‘All money raised will go straight to Help Zoe Lee pay her legal fees! Thank you!’ the page reads.
‘All money left after legal costs will be donated to suicide awareness. We will not be keeping a single cent of the money for ourselves.
‘Let’s get back our basic human rights.’
But the fundraiser was mysteriously taken down by its creator less than 24 hours after it was created.
The page had raised more than $8,600.
On Thursday morning, Buhler said she feared she was being ‘kidnapped’ when she was arrested.
The fundraiser page said the cash raised would help Buhler pay her legal fees following Wednesday’s arrest
‘I was scared I was being kidnapped by people, they obviously weren’t in uniforms,’ she told media waiting outside her Miner’s Rest home.
‘I was just so scared, I was like oh my gosh if I disappear today I want it live on Facebook.
‘I’m only very early pregnancy so obviously you’re told not to stress out or strain.’
Buhler is about seven weeks pregnant – which she only discovered days ago – and was due to have her first ultrasound an hour after her arrest.
She said she was ‘still yet to know exactly what [incitement] means’ and planned to fight the charge, claiming it was an honest mistake.
‘I just wanted to feel like I was doing something to stand up for human rights,’ she said.
‘If someone steals a car, they know they are committing a crime. I didn’t, so I don’t feel like I should have to pay for that.’
Buhler, who claimed to have lost her job during the lockdown, said police eventually took her handcuffs off and let her get dressed before taking her to the station.
She claimed the officers said they weren’t happy about having to arrest her.
Buhler allegedly created this event for Saturday at 11am on Sturt Street in Ballarat
Buhler later told radio station 3AW that she felt the police ‘barging in’ to her home and arresting her was ‘extreme’ and a phone call would have sufficed.
‘I had a bit of a bimbo moment and I actually didn’t realise that it wasn’t okay. I thought so long as we social distanced and wore masks it was okay,’ she said.
‘I was aware that the protest coming up in Melbourne wasn’t permitted, but I thought, in Ballarat, we’re in Stage Three lockdown.
‘I’m not a criminal person… If the police had just called me and told me to remove the post I would’ve done so.
‘I understand police were doing their job and they were very nice for me, but I wasn’t very happy with them barging into my house in front of my children.’
Zoe Buhler, 28, (pictured) said she feared she was being kidnapped during the arrest on Wednesday
Mother-of-two Buhler with her boyfriend James Timmins, who filmed her arrest
Buhler is not allowed on social media until Sunday as part of her bail terms, but hoped her arrest would raise opposition to the lockdown.
‘It’s pretty horrible circumstances but hopefully some good comes out of it,’ she said.
‘It might be a bit of an eye-opener about the human rights I’m trying to stand for and people realising just how out of control things are getting
‘So many people have been affected by the lockdown, people are losing their jobs, the economy has collapsed, rise in suicide and domestic violence. I wish we could see a happy medium.
‘I feel like Daniel Andrews is the one that should be feeling remorseful.’
Buhler’s social media pages are full of coronavirus conspiracy theories, but she insisted she believed the pandemic was real.
Buhler’s alleged offending post linked to a since-deleted ‘Freedom Day Ballarat’ event she created
Buhler is about seven weeks pregnant, only finding out days ago, and was due to have her first ultrasound an hour after her arrest
‘My heart goes out to anyone who’s died of covid, I know that people are getting sick, I don’t believe it’s a hoax or anything, I’m not a part of a cult,’ she said.
Three other protest organisers around Victoria have been charged with incitement in the past few weeks.
Buhler created a since-deleted ‘Freedom Day Ballarat’ event planned for 11am on Saturday on Sturt Street.
Her ‘peaceful protest’ said that attendees would follow restrictions like wearing masks and social distancing ‘so we don’t get arrested’.
‘As some of you may have seen, the government has gone to extreme measures and are using scare tactics through the media to prevent the Melbourne protest,’ the event page read.
‘Here in Ballarat we can be a voice for those is Stage Four lockdowns. We can be seen and hopefully make a difference!
‘End lockdowns! Stand for human rights! We live in a free country!’
Buhler offered to delete the post but was told she had already committed an offence
Buhler’s social media pages are full of coronavirus conspiracy theories, but she insisted she believed the pandemic was real
The video, which has since made international headlines in US and UK media, shows the confused mother asking why she is being arrested.
‘Excuse me, incitement for what, what on Earth? I’m in my pyjamas, my two kids are here,’ she asked police.
‘I have an ultrasound in an hour because I’m pregnant.’
The increasingly distressed mother insisted she wasn’t breaking any laws by creating and then promoting the event.
‘Actually you are, that’s why we’re arresting you in relation to incitement,’ police replied.
Buhler offered to delete the post as her boyfriend James Timmins tried to mediate while cradling their infant child in his arms.
‘How about she just doesn’t do the event? It’s not like she’s done it, she made a post,’ he said.
Police were unmoved, telling her: ‘You’ve already committed the offence.’
Buhler was distressed by this point and crying so much she could barely tell officers that she ‘didn’t realise’ she was ‘doing anything wrong’ in making the online event.
Police said they would seize all electronic devices in the house including those belonging to Mr Timmins and Buhler’s sister.
Buhler was charged with later incitement released on bail to face Ballarat Magistrates Court on January 25 next year.
Victoria Police told Daily Mail Australia anybody thinking of ‘attending the protest… can expect a swift and firm response from police.’
‘We will have no hesitation in issuing $1,652 fines to anyone who is breaching the restrictions on the day, or making arrests if necessary.’
Regional Victorian towns like Ballarat are spared the ultra-tough Stage Four lockdown but are still in Stage Three, making it illegal for more than two people to gather.
Police consider any protests to be in breach of these rules and have proved willing to arrest anyone organising or encouraging any gatherings.
Victoria Police claimed the protest would put lives at risk and anyone who showed up would be fined or arrested.
WHAT MELBOURNE’S STAGE FOUR LOCKDOWN MEANS FOR YOU
State of disaster: Increased police powers to enforce the lockdown. Cautions will no longer be issued, only $1,652 fines or court summons
Curfew: No one allowed outside 8pm to 5am except for work, medical, caregiving – no shopping or exercising
Distance limit: Shopping and exercise can only be done 5km from home
Exercise: All recreational activity is banned and you can only exercise, with one other person, for one hour a day
Partners: You can visit a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t live with you, even if they live more than 5km away
Shopping: Only one person can go shopping per household per day
Cafes and restaurants stay open for takeaway, as do supermarkets, etc
Schools: All students learning from home unless they are vulnerable or parents are essential workers. Kindy and childcare closed
Funerals: No change to funeral limits, but only 10 mourners can leave Melbourne to regional Victoria for one
Weddings: Completely banned
Public transport: Slashed after 8pm and cancelled late at night
Community sport: All community sport across Victoria is now banned. Only exercise is allowed within the permitted public gathering limits of two people.