A University of Queensland (UQ) student and senate member, Drew Pavlou, has summoned the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Consul General in Brisbane to a court hearing on 22 November to force a retraction and apology over a statement the diplomat posted following altercations at a 24 July protest at the university that was held in support of the pro-democracy student protesters in Hong Kong.
Mr Pavlou, 20, alleged the statement by Dr Xu Jie, who is also an adjunct professor at the UQ’s Confucius Institute, led to his being directly named in a accused him of being of an Anti-China separatist and the organiser of the gathering at the university which turned sour after clashes between pro-Hong Kong and PRC supporters.
“I was assaulted twice, one pro-China student grabbed me and swore at me,” Mr Pavlou told Neos Kosmos.
On the day after the protest, Dr Jie issued a post on the consular website attacking the organisers of the demonstration. His statement was picked up and published by the PRC state-owned newspaper Global Times which directly named Mr Pavlou as the organiser of the protest. The report was also carried in Australia-based Chinese media.
Mr Jie’s statement went on to read: “The Consulate-General regards highly the importance of the safety of the overseas Chinese students and affirms the self-motivated patriotic behaviour of the overseas Chinese students. The Consulate-General resolutely opposes to [sic] any conduct by words or behaviour to split the country … and to incite anti-China behaviour.”
What followed was a torrent of abuse direct at Mr Pavlou’s social media accounts. Some threatened his life and the safety of his family.
“It has been emotionally exhausting, and I am concerned for my family,” said Mr Pavlou.
“Being labelled a ‘separatist’ is putting a death sentence on me were I to ever go to China. I have been labelled an Anti-China separatist but I have no problem with China or its culture. I just do not agree with what the Chinese state is doing.”
Reacting after the fallout at the UQ campus protest, SBS reported on 27 July that Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a warning to foreign diplomats in the country that Australia would not tolerate interference in the exercise of free speech.
“The Australian Government expects all foreign diplomatic representatives to respect these rights,” Senator Payne is reported as saying in comments obtained by Australian Association Press.
Speaking of the summons he has issued to the PRC consul general for Brisbane, Mr Pavlou said an application was brought against the Consul General under the provisions of the Queensland Peace an d Good Behaviour Act on 14 October.
“I want the Consul General to withdraw his statement, apologise for making it and from making any posts which threaten my safety,” Mr Pavlou said.
A third-year student ofl Philosophy, Literature and History. He has two years left on his studies but recent events have shaken his desire to carry on in an academic career.
Mr Pavlou was recently elected to the university’s senate with 2000 votes behind him.
“It was the largest ever margin in the history of the university. The students are with me and many senior academics have said they will support me,” said Mr Pavlou.
“In my studies at the University of Queensland I have been very focused on the Rwandan genocide and how everybody knew what was going on and did nothing. This has sat on the world’s conscience. I have always been political and reading about Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uyghur people, I could not let this happen and did not want to be on my conscience.”
Mark Tarrant, the lawyer who will represent Mr Pavlou said that a charge of “separatism” which threatens the territorial integrity of the PRC is a “number one” crime and carries a life sentence. And it is capital offence that carries a death sentence should the accused be found to have been working with another government.
“I am taking up Mr Pavlou’s case pro bono because he is just 20 years old and a student. I grew up in Hong Kong and want to give something back. This situation has made Drew very nervous and puts him in a very difficult position,” said Mr Tarrant.
“We want Drew to be protected as well as other students who are too scared to come forward. Neither the University of Queensland, nor the police, state and federal bodies will protect so we are going to court to gain protection for him by the law.
“It looks like ‘Neo-Red Guards’ are running amok in the university and no one is stopping them from doing so,” said Mr Tarrant.
He added that his client was looking to lay criminal charges against the PRC consular-general.
Efforts were made to contact the University of Queensland vice-chancellor, Professor Peter Hoj and the PRC Consulate General in Brisbane. Neos Kosmos had received no responses to our questions at the time of writing. More stories will follow in the following weeks.