An anti-lockdown activist with thousands of followers has failed to overturn an eight-month jail term or convince a judge he “just tagged along” with rally organisers.
Anthony Khallouf travelled from Melbourne to Sydney via Brisbane in mid-August before calling on “up to 100,000” people to turn out for the city’s leg of nationwide rallies planned for August 21 against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccinations.
The unemployed Victorian personal trainer and self-styled “guerilla journalist” also joked he would cancel the protest as it could be a super-spreader event in a video ending with “nah, f*** that s***, I’ll see you guys this Saturday”.
But in an appeal hearing on Wednesday, Khallouf was portrayed as a follower who’d “just tagged along” and “invited others to do so as well”.
“His incitement is to draw the attention of other people to the event,” Oussama Elfawal told the Sydney District Court.
The 29-year-old lost his job due to the pandemic, which began only months after he ended more than a year of psychological treatment, the court was told.
“The imposition of the COVID restrictions was the tipping of the scale regarding his psychological wellbeing and the substance of the conduct that brings him before the court today,” Mr Elfawal said.
But Judge Helen Syme dismissed mental health links to his crimes, and suggested he was out to make money from his Sydney adventure.
When arrested, Khallouf was carrying a suitcase with merchandise for his platform and his website showed “what appeared to be a number of gullible people” had donated almost $5000 to his cause.
She also noted the 29-year-old was arrested in possession of bail papers stating he was required to remain in Victoria.
Khallouf was charged for inciting protests in Victoria in 2020 and 2021, had attended a Brisbane anti-lockdown rally on July 24 and had been stopped twice by Queensland police in August for not wearing a mask.
“(He) made a point of coming to Sydney to be with his followers, despite being in breach of bail in Victoria … (and after) flouting laws in Brisbane,” crown prosecutor Karl Prince told the court.
Judge Syme accepted it was the offender’s first time in prison and circumstances in Sydney’s jails were very difficult, due to a COVID-19 outbreak and quarantine measures.
But she dismissed a claim he could be released on an intensive corrections order that required him to reside with a friend in Budden, near Mudgee.
On the evidence, Khallouf “never” complied with court orders, the judge said.
“Leaving aside that he encouraged others, I have some real concerns he can be trusted to change his mind and mindset … simply because he is in custody,” Judge Syme said.
COVID-19 posed a danger to the community, especially vulnerable people who face a high risk of death if they catch the disease, she said.
While the August 21 rallies appeared to have several organisers, Khallouf “saw himself as an important contributor” to that, given his posts to social media.
“Mr Khallouf entirely disregarded the danger he presented to those vulnerable people,” Judge Syme said.
“Encouraging 100,000 in those circumstances is not only stupid and irrational but a danger to the community in itself.”
She said Khallouf’s most serious crime involved an “alarming” audio message posted on Instagram that called on followers to contact police as his life was “in imminent danger”.
Multiple people did call emergency services, resulting in urgent police investigations, the court was told.
He also claims on Instragram his “mission is to help create a mass-scale awakening of Australians”.
The judge said she did not propose “tinkering” with the local court’s orders.
Khallouf will be eligible for parole on November 19.