Student activist walks out of University of Queensland disciplinary hearing claiming China influence

University of Queensland student Drew Pavlou is facing expulsion after criticising the institution's links with China.

Student Drew Pavlou and barrister Tony Morris outside a UQ disciplinary hearing.

Student Drew Pavlou and barrister Tony Morris outside a UQ disciplinary hearing. Source: SBS News/Stefan Armbruster

Student activist Drew Pavlou says he will fight the University of Queensland's attempts to expel him all the way to the Supreme Court, after walking out of a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday. 

UQ has threatened to expel Mr Pavlou over misconduct allegations he claims are motivated by his anti-Chinese Communist Party activities on campus. 

Mr Pavlou organised a protest on campus supporting Hong Kong demonstrators last year and accused UQ of being influenced by the Chinese government in social media posts. 

He said he refused to participate in Wednesday's hearing because due process had not been followed, labelling it a "Stalinist show trial". 

Student Drew Pavlou with mother Vanessa Pavlou before the UQ disciplinary hearing.
Source: SBS News: Stefan Armbruster

His legal team also complained they were denied access to relevant documents they believe will show UQ collusion with the Chinese government.

In a statement, UQ rejected Mr Pavlou's claims that the disciplinary matter was a free speech issue, saying their policies are not driven by politics. 

"Student disciplinary matters are initiated in response to complaints made to the university. We cannot respond or engage in discussions on our student disciplinary matters - even if this means we cannot correct inaccuracies that misrepresent the University.”

The 20-year-old third-year arts and philosophy undergraduate student faces 11 allegations of misconduct.

“Expel me if you want to, we’ll see you in the Supreme Court of Queensland,” Mr Pavlou said after the hearing. 

“These false allegations, petty things, this Kangaroo court deserves no respect. I have no respect for it.”

The allegations include claims of bullying and other misconduct, but Mr Pavlou's barrister Tony Morris QC said more detail had not been provided.

“One of the charges is that Drew picked up a pen in the university book store, wrote something with it, and put it back on the shelf,” Mr Morris said. 

“What we have seen is a statutory declaration from the academic registrar saying that he’s received three complaints but not disclosing what they were complaints of or about.”

Mr Morris said two of the three members of the disciplinary panel should step aside over “perceived apprehension of bias” because they are paid employees of the university.

Mr Morris said his client was entitled to access university documents to defend himself. 

“He sought access to documents, the existence of which is not denied, that show positively that on the very day that he was beaten and bashed by pro-Beijing activists, the vice-chancellor of this institution was liaising with the Chinese consulate-general as to how they should manage their public relations response to that incident.

Student Drew Pavlou and barrister Tony Morris address the media outside the UQ disciplinary hearing.
Source: SBS News: Stefan Armbruster

UQ has emphatically rejected the claim that they coordinated its public response to the student protest with the Chinese Consulate, releasing a redacted copy of its correspondence on the matter on Wednesday evening. 

It shows the university posted its public response on its Facebook page at 4.40pm. An hour later a member of the communications team asked a deputy vice-chancellor to review a message to the Chinese Consulate. 

 

"The message outlined the university’s expectations that students express their views in a lawful and respectful manner and provided contact details for Chinese students seeking support," a university statement read.

 

"The message was approved without any changes, and emailed to the Consulate and copied to the Confucius Institute at 7.05pm."

 

Mr Pavlou has been a fierce critic of the Chinese Communist Party and its human rights record in Hong Kong and Nepal, and treatment of Uighurs.

In July, he was assaulted during a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest on campus that turned violent and has led to a separate court case against Chinese Consul-General in Brisbane Dr Xu Jie.

The incidents have drawn attention to the university’s links with the Chinese government, particularly the Beijing-funded Confucius Institute on campus, and the appointment of Dr Xu as a UQ adjunct professor.

The diplomat issued a statement after the July protest condemning it as “anti-China separatist activities”.

That statement was followed by one from the Chinese Embassy of Australia, in which a spokesman said Dr Xu's comments were "appropriate and measured" and that "any misinterpretation of and over-reaction to the remarks [were] regrettable and unacceptable".

Mr Pavlou has initiated court proceedings seeking an apology and retraction from Dr Xu, claiming that as organiser of the protest he received death threats as a result of the statement.

As part of those proceedings he subpoenaed email correspondence between UQ and the Chinese consulate, but a confidentiality clause prevents them from being used in the UQ case. 

Mr Pavlou said UQ's lawyers had warned him that he faces contempt of court proceedings if the documents are made public, which he claims is an attempt to silence him.

“They threatened to prosecute me for contempt of court, which carries a three-year prison sentence,” he said.

“I want the public to see these documents to prove the university collaborated against me, as their student, because I think the public has a right to see.

“UQ is threatening me with jail because I want to expose their direct co-ordination with the Chinese government against students.”

In its statement, UQ defended the integrity of its disciplinary proceedings.

“It is entirely reasonable and appropriate for the university to provide a safe environment for students and staff, both on campus and online," it said.

“Part of this is ensuring complaints are fairly considered through a standard, confidential disciplinary process, which is being followed in this case.”


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Published 20 May 2020 at 6:24pm
By Stefan Armbruster