Four Muslim women 'punched in the face' in Islamophobic attacks near UTS Ultimo


One of four Muslim women targeted in four successive and unprovoked Islamophobic attacks on Wednesday said she was randomly punched in the face as she walked through the city wearing her headphones.

Maria Claudia Gimenez Wilson, a 39-year-old journalism student from Paraguay, is charged with assaulting the four women, aged 18-23, as they walked along busy roads near UTS in Ultimo on Wednesday afternoon.

All four women were wearing head scarves, or hijab, and were allegedly punched in the face.

Officers are treating the assaults as "bias-motivated crimes" after Ms Wilson allegedly told police she was motivated by a hatred of Muslims.

Ms Wilson, who moved to Australia to study, was ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment in Prince of Wales Hospital on Thursday after her Legal Aid solicitor, Vanya Hampel, told Central Local Court that her client was seeking to be dealt with under mental health legislation.

A report by a Justice Health nurse said that Ms Wilson had schizoaffective disorder and "appears to be suffering persecutory beliefs".

Ms Wilson, whose Facebook profile is littered with far right-wing and anti-Islamic material, interrupted proceedings to say that she was not unwell.

"The only thing I did was to take a bull cut [sic] to a Muslim lady," she said. "I don't see any problem with that."

One of Ms Wilson's alleged victims, Hanan Merheb, posted on Facebook that she was walking past UTS listening to music and "in a pretty good mood" when she was punched out of nowhere.

"[I was] staring absent-mindedly ahead of me when some lady ... came up to me and punched me in the face," she said.

"She didn't speak to me, didn't run away, she just punched me and walked off, as casually as if she had just come to say hello."

She said another woman in hijab had been punched just before and she saw a third women in hijab almost get punched by the same lady.

"All FOUR Muslim girls who were punched in the face by this Caucasian lady are fine. A little hurt, but we're OK. The lady was caught, and guess what? She's mentally unstable.

"The doctor, councillor, security and police were all so lovely ... but my God don't ask me if I think this was a race/religion thing. And don't try to tell me she was mentally ill. Even if that is the case, honestly I don't even care. Stop making excuses dammit."

UTS lecturer Kais Al-Momani said he rushed over to help one woman after he saw her fall to the ground outside UTS's Building 10.

"I didn't know what had happened but I could see straight away that her mouth was covered in blood. She was crying and shaking and said she'd been punched in the face ... by another woman who she didn't know."

He followed the female perpetrator and took a photo of her to provide to campus security.

By the time security alerted police, she had already been arrested by officers patrolling Pitt and George streets.

Mr Momani said the victim was a "young student from a migrant background" who was "absolutely terrified after this incident".

"She was able to get treatment for her physical injuries but she is going to need a lot of support," he said. "[The police] also said that they are getting reports like this every single day."

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Today I witnessed the aftermath of a hate crime. I was outside building 10 ( UTS city campus near Central) when I saw a...Posted by Kais Al-momani on Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Ms Hampel told the court her client had previous convictions dealt with under the Mental Health Act and it was likely that the latest charges - two counts of assault and two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm - would be dealt with similarly.

Prosecutors did not oppose the order for psychiatric treatment.

Mariam Veiszadeh, founder of Islamophobia Register Australia, said Australian Muslim women in hijab often bear the brunt of Islamophobia.

"We are very concerned with the escalation of both the frequency of incidents of Islamophobia and the level of violence," she said.

NSW Police spokesman for bias-motivated crime, Superintendent Daniel Sullivan, said police will "fully investigate" any race-related crimes

"We encourage anyone who suspects they have been a victim of a bias motivated crime to report it to police. If we don't know about it, we can't investigate it," he said.

with Georgina Mitchell

This story Four Muslim women 'punched in the face' in Islamophobic attacks near UTS Ultimo first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.