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Australian university suspends student who criticized its China ties

University of Queensland (Kgbo/WikiCommons)
May 30, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A disciplinary panel at Australia’s University of Queensland has suspended an outspoken student activist who criticized Beijing’s influence at the university and took part in protests in support of Hong Kong.

“I’ve been expelled from The University of Queensland for two years as a reprisal for my activism criticizing the Chinese government,” Drew Pavlou said via his Twitter account on Friday. “Will launch immediate appeal.”

“The University of Queensland has expelled me, an Australian student, for attacking the Chinese government’s human rights record,” he said. “Twenty per cent of their revenue comes from China, so my pro-Hong Kong activism threatened their business model.”

Pavlou, who is a democratically elected UQ Senator, said he would take his case “all the way to the Supreme Court.”

He said the suspension period covered his entire tenure on the UQ Senate.

There were signs on Friday that the university may already be seeking to distance itself from the disciplinary council.

UQ chancellor Peter Varghese issued a statement saying he had concerns about the decision.

“I was today advised about the outcome of the disciplinary action against Mr Pavlou,” he said in comments reported by The Australian newspaper.

“There are aspects of the findings and the severity of the penalty which personally concern me [and] I have decided to convene an out-of-session meeting of UQ’s Senate next week to discuss the matter.”

‘Kangaroo court’

Varghese’s statement came after Pavlou’s lawyer, barrister Tony Morris QC walked out of the disciplinary panel hearing last week, saying it was a “kangaroo court.”

Morris said the panel had refused to hand over documents allegedly supporting the case against Pavlou.

The university’s disciplinary panel alleged that Pavlou, a 20-year-old student of English and philosophy, had harmed UQ’s reputation, engaged in intimidating and disrespectful conduct, and disrupted the running of the university, among other charges.

Pavlou — who suffers from depression — faced 11 allegations of misconduct, including activities that the authorities say breached its integrity and harassment policies and the student charter.

Pavlou earlier said the authorities had presented as “evidence” of his alleged misconduct social media comments he made regarding the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, in which he claimed to be speaking “on behalf of the university” following his election as student representative to the university senate.

Pavlou has also reported being physically attacked by Chinese Communist Party supporters during a campus brawl at UQ sparked by Chinese students’ opposition to a Hong Kong protest-related activity.

According to UQ, Pavlou also allegedly placed a sign on the UQ Confucius Institute — a cultural organization embedded in campuses around the world and directly staffed and controlled by the Chinese government — in March, declaring it was a “biohazard” amid the coronavirus epidemic, according to a post he made on Facebook.

Pavlou says he is being singled out because of his specific criticisms of UQ’s relationship with China, as well as his support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement and for the Turkic Uyghur ethnic group, who have been subjected to mass incarceration in “re-education” camps by the CCP.

Pavlou also burned a copy of the collected works of Chinese President Xi Jinping outside the Chinese consulate in Brisbane.

‘Silent Invasion’ felt in Australia

Xu Jie, the Chinese Consul General in Brisbane, has previously accused Pavlou of engaging in “anti-China separatist activities.” China’s Global Times tabloid newspaper, published by Communist Party paper the People’s Daily, has made similar claims.

Xu was awarded the post of visiting professor by UQ vice president Peter Hoj on July 12, 2019, a move which also drew criticism from Pavlou at the time.

Canberra last year said it would crack down on suspected Chinese Communist Party influencers in the country following the introduction of new laws targeting activities by lobbyists and agents of foreign governments in June 2018, and later denied a passport to a top Chinese businessman.

Australian author and professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton’s book, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, was initially turned down by three publishers citing fears of reprisals from Beijing before being published in 2018.

Hamilton’s book argues that Australia’s elites, and parts of the country’s large Chinese-Australian diaspora, have been mobilized by Beijing to gain access to politicians, limit academic freedom, intimidate critics, gather information for Chinese intelligence agencies, and organize protests against Australian government policy.

According to Reuters, the Chinese Communist Party was behind a massive cyber attack on the Australian national parliament ahead of May’s general election.

The agency cited the country’s cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), as saying that Beijing was responsible for the attack on the parliament and the three largest political parties, and that it had originated with the Ministry of State Security in Beijing. The findings were initially kept secret to avoid damaging trade ties.