Thousands of protesters in Australia called for an end to violence against women during a march on Sunday, days after the brutal murder of an Israeli student in Melbourne that shocked the country.
Demonstrators called for streets to be made safe for women, after the body of 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe was found in bushes near a tram stop last Wednesday.
She was on her way home from a Melbourne comedy club and was speaking to her younger sister in Israel on FaceTime with her cellphone, when she was savagely attacked, shortly after stepping off from a tram in the suburb of Bundoora.
The weekend rallies — held in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra — are part of the Women’s March campaign, first held in January 2017, in the United States and around the world.
During Sunday’s march, campaigners held banners with the words, “I’m here for Aiia” and “Stop violence against women.”
— Caroline (@carolinexclark) January 20, 2019
“I’m marching for the women who can’t,” protester Samantha Nolan-Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at the rally in the nation’s capital Canberra. “I’m thinking particularly of the death that happened this week and so many other women who have suffered from violence and who are dead.”
On Saturday, prosecutors at the Melbourne Magistrates Court charged 20-year-old Codey Herrmann with the rape and murder of Maasarwe.
Herrmann, an aspiring rapper who performs as M.C. Codez, did not apply for bail at the hearing. In Australia, a murder conviction carries a potential maximum penalty of life imprisonment and rape carries a potential maximum of 25 years.
Police have withheld further details on the attack that officers described as “horrific,” which they believe was random and opportunistic.
Herrmann was arrested on Friday morning in a suburb neighboring Bundoora around the same time as the victim’s China-based father, Saeed Maasarwe, visited a floral memorial to his daughter that has grown at the site where her body was dumped behind a hedge not far from the tram station. Maasarwe arrived in Melbourne on Thursday to confirm his daughter’s identity and to bring her home.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited the same memorial on Saturday, accompanied by his wife and two daughters.
“Later today, I’m going to be meeting with her father. Words will fail me, I’m sure, as one father to another,” Morrison told reporters.
“I think that the country is very shaken … but at the same time, as always, reaches out and seeks to comfort, and I want to thank those Australians for doing that and I was pleased to be able to, with my family, simply do the same,” he added.
Around 1,000 people, including Saeed Maasarwe, gathered in a silent vigil in respect for the young Israeli on the steps of Victoria state parliament on Friday night. Many carrying flowers and candles later took trams to another vigil at the location near a shopping mall where the body was found by passers by on Wednesday morning.
During the weekend, floral tributes continued to be laid at La Trobe University, where Maasarwe was a student.
Maasarwe was originally from Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel, a predominantly Arab city.
She was studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China.
Her uncle Abed Kittani told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Maasarwe’s younger sister remained on the line after the attack.
“She heard the cars passing by and she was helpless, she couldn’t do anything,” Kittani said of the sister, who sent messages, but there was no response.
On Sunday, Saed Maasarwe thanked Morrison and Australian authorities.
“We really appreciate the support from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and all the things the police department achieved in a short time,” he said according to Australian news reports.
In later interview with Israel’s Radio 103FM, Maasarwe said he did not want to discuss the attack or the case against Herrmann in detail.
“I don’t want to focus my energy on hatred,” he said. “What happened is in the past and we must deal with that, and part of that is transmitting light and love instead of hatred.
“I have thousands of pictures of her, and I do not have a single one of her not smiling, she was always so full of joy and optimism.”