‘Seriously wrong’:leaders call for fairer funeral rules after police clashes

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Leaders in south-west Sydney say outdoor funeral rules should be relaxed after mourners clashed with police on Wednesday,warning lasting damage was being made to community cohesion.

Amna Karra-Hassan,from the Lebanese Muslim Association,says people feel targeted by authorities after four people were arrested for attending an outdoor funeral at Rookwood Cemetery.

Four people were arrested at Rookwood Cemetery on Wednesday.

Four people were arrested at Rookwood Cemetery on Wednesday.Facebook

She said there was anger that thousands were able to flock to beaches in Sydney’s affluent suburbs while families could not mourn their loved ones outdoors.

Police,including members of the riot squad,were called to the cemetery on Wednesday following reports up to 100 people were in attendance.

According to police,most dispersed when directed to by officers,but four men refused and were arrested.

The men were taken to Auburn and Burwood police stations where a 33-year-old man allegedly became abusive and threatened officers.

Security at Rookwood Cemetery check the number of visitors entering in August.

Security at Rookwood Cemetery check the number of visitors entering in August.Janie Barrett

He was charged with three counts of intimidating a police officer,using offensive language and failing to comply with public health orders. The other three men were issued fines.

However,Ms Karra-Hassan said three people were being buried at the cemetery at the time and mourners were waiting in their cars to pay their respects from afar.

The organisation is now seeking urgent meetings with NSW Health,police and Rookwood Cemetery,saying officers had not applied the discretion available to them.

It wants the government to lift the 10-person limit on funerals held outdoors and for the removal of the five-kilometre travel limit.

“There is something seriously wrong with how they’re treating communities in south-west Sydney,” Ms Karra-Hassan said.

“Distrust of police and government is at an all-time high. People feel like they’re being singled out unfairly,and I think it’s going to have a lasting impact that ultimately harms all of us.

“There’s a perception that you have to have wealth or be from an affluent community to be treated with respect or humanity.”

Samier Dandan,president of the Lebanese Muslim Association,said the people at the cemetery were not “sunbaking without masks on the sand”.

“They were observing social distancing and wearing masks while burying their loved ones,” he said. “If our Health Minister stated that being outdoors is the best place to be for beachgoers,then why not outdoor funeral attendees.”

Under NSW’s current lockdown rules,only 10 people are permitted to attend a funeral,whether it is held indoors or outside.

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Daniella White is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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