Why do Drew and his lawyer describe his recent disciplinary hearing as a “kangaroo court”?
And, what compels him to keep going, despite being slandered and receiving death threats for his human rights advocacy?
In this episode, we sit down with Drew Pavlou, who was elected Senator at the University of Queensland to represent the undergraduate student body.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Drew Pavlou, so great to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Drew Pavlou: Thanks so much, Jan. Thank you so much.
Mr. Jekielek: Drew, it’s almost the middle of the night here for you, and you’re having some really long days these days, so I really appreciate you squeezing in a longer interview.
Mr. Pavlou: No, it’s okay. I’m happy to do it.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re in a remarkable situation. On the one hand, you were elected as a student senator at the University of Queensland (UQ) on the platform of human rights in China and closing Confucius Institutes. Now, the university has assembled a 180-plus page document to explain why you should be expelled, and you just had a hearing a few days ago. Tell me your story, Drew, what happened here?
Mr. Pavlou: I lead that first protest back in July at the University of Queensland basically calling for my university to divest from its relationship with China [and] close its Confucius Institute, while the Chinese government was perpetrating such terrible human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Tibet, and those terrible human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims of China. We were basically calling for our university to cut ties with this dictatorship until these human rights abuses were well addressed.
It was a peaceful sit-in. We were aiming to be disruptive, but we were always aiming to be peaceful. We had a peaceful sit-in rally on one of the busiest days of the year on campus—the campus Market Day, July 24—and … supporters of the Chinese government … responded with violence. They can’t tolerate any form of dissent, I suppose. When you look at the imagery of what happened on the day, I was sitting down leading a peaceful protest and [there came] men who were in their late 30s, wearing sunglasses, wearing masks, taking steps to conceal their identities. One man was talking into an earpiece—this was sort of a coordinated attempt to disrupt our rally with violence.
… I support Professor Clive Hamilton’s belief that these men weren’t students. These men who assaulted us on the day were in fact sent by the [Chinese] consulate in Brisbane to disrupt our campus protests, and to try and suppress our freedom of expression [and] freedom of speech, using violence to intimidate and bully us into submission. This was, in my belief, a coordinated attempt by the Chinese Consulate in Brisbane to violently attack university students peacefully demonstrating in Australia against the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.
It was a really remarkable day. I was punched in the back of the head while my back was turned; other students were charged [and] slammed to the ground. A number of Hong Kong students were actually bitten; a security guard was bitten by one of these guys. They were never identified as students; they were never charged by police; they seemingly vanished into thin air.
You would think that the University’s response to this terrible, terrible violence would be to defend our right to freedom of speech and expression, condemning the violence by supporters of the Chinese government. But in fact—it has since come out in documents—on the afternoon of that violence, the university was sending emails off to the consulate for review and evaluation before posting. The University was preparing their public statements, sending them to the consulate for review, and then after obtaining permission by the Chinese Consulate, publishing [those] statements. The University was coordinating its public relations response to the protest with the Chinese Consulate, and they were in close coordination with the Chinese Consulate against me and against other students who had supported the Hong Kong side.
The next day, Consul General Xu Jie, the Chinese Consul General in Brisbane, put out a statement basically praising the Chinese students who had assaulted us as patriotic. He condemned the protest organizers as separatists. I had been named in the Global Times a day before as the protest organizer, so he was labeling me as a separatist. As we all know, … that’s one of the highest crimes to the Chinese government. It carries the death penalty in China. So when I was labeled as a separatist, it was in some respects almost a Chinese government fatwa against me, encouraging people to attack me, threatening me in Brisbane, Australia. I had hundreds of death threats sent to me. My social media was inundated with these threats.
The really remarkable fact of all this is that Consul General Xu Jie is not just a diplomat. …The University of Queensland, my university, one month before this violence, … appointed him as an Honorary Professor. He was appointed to the faculty. The University of Queensland, in an absolutely unprecedented move, appointed a serving member of the Chinese government to its faculty, and this was thus a professor at the university encouraging violent attacks against me and other students, endorsing such attacks as patriotic.
Now, did the University of Queensland ever say anything about Xu Jie? Did they ever follow up against him? Did they ever try and remove him from his faculty position for endorsing violent attacks on students who were simply trying to peacefully express their views that [are] critical of the Chinese government? The university never once condemned Xu Jie; never once attempted to remove him from his position. … To this day, 11 months later, he’s still ensconced in his position at the University of Queensland. Xu Jie faced absolutely no consequences for endorsing violent attacks on students.
[I am] just simply an undergraduate student who criticized quite vocally the university’s relationship with the Chinese government. The University of Queensland has now hired out two international law firms to prepare a 186-page exposure dossier, and … they didn’t stop there. They’ve produced further submissions, some of them totaling 60-70 pages, outlining the case for my expulsion.The University, on top of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on these two international law firms against me, is now hiring public relations crisis management teams. …
Why not just drop the case? It’s so clearly a politically motivated vendetta to try and appease their masters in Beijing. Why not simply drop the case? You don’t have to spend these hundreds of thousands of dollars on this ridiculous insane vendetta. These are taxpayer dollars, student fees, and they’re using it [to try] to crack down on an Australian student who has simply expressed himself peacefully on campus in a way that the Chinese government has objected to.
I suppose the Consul General Xu Jie complained to the university when I took him to court trying to seek a protection order after he endorsed those violent attacks on me and encouraged people to send death threats against me. I tried to take him to court seeking a protection order simply so that I would be safe in my own home in Brisbane, and he probably complained to the university. He probably said, “Your continued ability to attract students from China probably relies on you cracking down on the student here; making sure he stops embarrassing us.” I think the Consul-General’s basically given the university an ultimatum, “If you want Chinese students to continue to study at the University of Queensland in the future, you have to make sure that the campus is not this politically sensitive place where people are criticizing the Chinese government.”
And I think the University of Queensland [knows] that this is a billion dollar question when we look at this over the long term. The university relies on Chinese students for 20 percent of its income. If the Chinese market tomorrow dried up because … the totalitarian government in China decided, “Well, UQ is too politically sensitive to allow students to study at,” [and] if that market disappeared overnight, UQ would be made bankrupt; insolvent. So when the Chinese Consul General in Brisbane says, “Jump,” the Vice-Chancellor asks, “how high?”
Indeed, … last week when an Australian Senator, James Paterson, released whistleblower documents from within UQ, we found out that the Vice-Chancellor, Peter Høj, was actually afforded $200,000 in Australian dollars—I think $130,000 in US dollars. He was afforded this huge, huge bonus on top of an already million dollar salary in part for meeting his KPI of deepening relations with China. When it says, “deepening relations with China,” what does that mean? It means deepening relations with the Chinese [Communist] Party State, because ultimately in China, the totalitarian government calls the shots.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m stunned. I’ve seen a lot working with the Epoch Times. We’ve been covering human rights in China for 20 years, so definitely I’ve seen a lot. This is so preposterous in some sense. Of course, the university is saying that this is not politically motivated at all.
Mr. Pavlou: Well, look at the 186-page expulsion dossier, and what are the allegations outlined in the case for my expulsion? They include such ridiculous petty stuff. For example, I used the pen in a store on campus to make a note, I put the pen back on the shelf without paying, [and] I exited the store. That is one of the allegations that the University of Queensland is seriously mounting against me in their attempt to expel me. They seriously want the public to believe I’m being expelled from the University of Queensland for using a pen in a store on campus, taking a note, putting it back on the shelf without paying, and leaving the store. … What was the cost of this pen? Maybe 80 cents? I didn’t even steal it; I put it back on the shelf; I took a note.
It’s fundamentally not about the pen. It’s about me threatening billions of dollars in revenue for the University of Queensland in the future, because I am a vocal critic of the Chinese government on campus, and the Chinese government will not tolerate any form of dissent even in foreign countries, on foreign campuses. It’s a complete farce.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. This is a very interesting time to be talking to you, because from what I’ve seen, you have a lot of support among students in Hong Kong. We’ve known the situation in Hong Kong has been getting more difficult, but now not less than 24 hours ago we learned that it looks like Beijing is going to completely unravel “one country, two systems.” Have you heard from any of these students in Hong Kong?
Mr. Pavlou: Yeah, I’ve been in contact with quite a number of Hong Kongers over there. I’m so lucky to have the support of so many Hong Kongers. I completely totally support them. I really can’t wait to one day visit Hong Kong, although I probably will not be let in by the Chinese government at this stage.
The past 24 hours have just been remarkable. It’s really the death knell for “one country, two systems.” We all knew “one country, two systems” was dead years ago, but now this is the final nail in the coffin. It is Xi Jinping attempt to murder Hong Kong democracy once and for all. This national security legislation will allow the Chinese government to send in Ministry of State Security police to hound and round up dissidents [and] send them to mainland torture facilities. It fundamentally destroys the rule of law in Hong Kong; it destroys its status as an autonomous city state; [and] it subordinates the city almost totally to Beijing’s imperial control. It’s a colonialist project.
When I try to make this issue salient to Australians, I ask people to try and step into the shoes of an ordinary Hong Konger or an ordinary Uyghur, an ordinary Tibetan or an ordinary Chinese person, and I ask the Australian to reflect upon what it must feel like to live in fear of a midnight knock on the door from the Ministry of State Security . … For a social media post, you might disappear off the face of the earth into some terrible torture prison; you might be left dead in a ditch simply for expressing yourself freely around the wrong person. … Maybe this wrong person hears you utter a joke about the government—nobody ever sees you again.
Try and inhabit the shoes of an ordinary person who would live with that daily fear and insecurity, and reflect upon what that must feel like. If you don’t feel … an overriding sense of injustice to the very core of your bones, then I don’t think you’re a human being. If you don’t have a heart, you don’t feel just this raging sense of injustice at the fact that an ordinary person just like you and I would have to live constantly in a state of fear, fear that they may be tortured, disappeared, [or] murdered for no reason other than the fact that they live under a totalitarian rule, and the powerful exercise total power and control without any checks and balances.
Mr. Jekielek: Drew, I don’t like to use this term, but the mask has come off for the Chinese Communist Party at this moment. Do you think that somehow strengthens your case?
Mr. Pavlou: Well, I think the entire world is really waking up to the reality of Xi Jinping’s China. I mean, China under the Chinese Communist Party, has always been a really brutal place. Since Mao, millions have been slaughtered by this terrible party. But I guess for a long time, many people around the world deluded themselves, even after Tiananmen, [saying] “China will liberalize. China will change. It will democratize as they enter the global trading system [and] their markets open up.” Xi Jinping, like you said, basically shows the world the unvarnished reality of this regime.
People sometimes try and claim, “Well, China was never this bad before Xi.” Well you know before Xi, there were still people being executed for their organs. There were still ordinary people being persecuted for their religious practices. There were still terrible labor camps and torture camps dotted around the country with millions of people oppressed and persecuted. Xi Jinping just takes the mask off just that little bit more. He just shows the brutality of the Chinese state in a more naked way. The world has woken up to that.
[There has been] his brutal crackdown in Hong Kong, his terrible terrible persecution of the Uighur Muslims, which I believe constitutes genocide, his crackdown on Tibet, [and] his roundup of dissidents. Of course, we can’t forget the Chinese Communist Party’s attempted cover up of the Coronavirus pandemic, which I think ultimately doomed the world to terrible catastrophe with hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
The world is really waking up to the naked reality of this regime. It’s a terrible insecure dictatorship. It’s a totalitarian, ultra-nationalist state that believes other countries should be subordinated to its rule. It believes that the Han race must reign supreme over China and possibly Asia, so you see the suppression of ethnic minorities [and] the racist hounding of Africans in China. This is a racist, totalitarian, [and] in many ways, fascist state. It bears all the hallmarks of a fascist state. It looks almost like the Nazi Party looked like in the 30s. We already see the concentration camps, we already see the book burnings, the torture, the murders, the disappearances, the emergence of totalitarian rule. This looks like Nazi Germany in the 30s.
Mr. Jekielek: Drew, what is the status of your case right now?
Mr. Pavlou: Right now, as I record this interview, it’s nearly midnight on Friday. We walked out around midday. On Wednesday, we walked out on the kangaroo court hearing against me. So it’s now been two and a half, nearly three days since we walked out. Not a single word of communication has passed between us and the university. The university has not told us whether they continued the hearing, [what] they found against me, [or] whether I’ve already been expelled. We literally have no idea what the university is up to. It’s been nearly three days, and I’ve got no idea what’s happening.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me when you say you “walked out on the kangaroo court”, what actually happened in there?
Mr. Pavlou: We walked in, and we saw that not one, but two international law firms were represented. The university had contracted out this very prestigious Australian law firm that acts internationally, MinterEllison. They had contracted MinterEllison to mount the prosecution against me. And they contracted Clayton Utz, another prestigious Australian law firm that also acts internationally. They contracted Clayton Utz for legal advice. So two law firms were contracted out by the university for the hearing.
My lawyer raised the problem that the majority of the disciplinary board that would be deciding on my expulsion were actually paid employees of the university. How can we in any way expect an independent judgment when the board is made up of paid employees of the university? The University of Queensland’s lawyers with MinterEllison put forward their final submission just a day before the hearing, outlining the University of Queensland’s official opinion. It’s an official direction to the disciplinary board that I should be expelled. So what had happened was, the University of Queensland had brought in these two huge high powered law firms, extremely expensive law firms, to direct university employees on a disciplinary board to expel me.
My lawyer, Anthony Morris QC is a Silk, which is like a Queen’s Counsel [QC]. We call them a Silk in Australia. It’s like a senior barrister, the best of the best lawyers around. I’m very lucky that he’s thankfully representing me pro bono, because I could not afford the $10,000 that [he could] charge. I’m just a 20 year old. I’m very lucky to have one of the best lawyers in the country representing me. UQ had brought in these huge, high powered law firms against me that stack the books against me, and so Tony in his professional opinion said to me, “There’s no point [in] legitimizing this process by being here, because it is fundamentally rigged. It’s fundamentally procedurally unfair. There is no reason to not walk out. We must walk out.”
I of course concurred with him, because I’m not in the business of trying to make these guys look good by cooperating with this sort of sham kangaroo court. Why would I even engage with that type of process that is completely rigged against us? I’m not going to give them the legitimacy that they crave and want, because it does not deserve that at all.
Mr. Jekielek: Now, you’re still a university senator, right?
Mr. Pavlou: Let me tell you, it’s very, very awkward sitting on the University of Queensland Senate, with the people who drafted up this expulsion dossier against me.
Mr. Jekielek: The whole case is just so fascinating, and you were actually elected by a considerable margin on exactly the platform of removing the Confucius Institute, which is a significant contributor to the funding and status.
Mr. Pavlou: Yeah, I was elected by thousands of students to represent them. They elected me on a platform that included at a very fundamental core level opposing the Chinese government and opposing its human rights abuses and opposing the University of Queensland’s links to the Chinese government. Simply for representing the students who voted for me, now the University of Queensland is trying to expel me.
They didn’t just expel me actually; they even threatened me with jail time recently. We tried to use court documents from my case against Xu Jie, that we believe were very relevant to my defense, because these documents proved coordination between the university and the Consul. We tried to use such documents in my expulsion hearing, and the University of Queensland directed its lawyers at Clayton Utz to send me a huge letter threatening to immediately open contempt of court proceedings against me, something that in my state would carry a three year prison sentence as a penalty. So the University of Queensland was actually threatening to prosecute me and seek jail time against me to try and stop me from using documents relevant to mounting my defense. So, yeah, it’s an absolutely remarkable case of trying to suppress freedom of speech on campus.
Mr. Jekielek: We’ve had a number of guests on the show who have basically said that there is possibly a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, as horrible as it is. Now I would extend that to what the Chinese Communist Party is doing in Hong Kong, unraveling the one country two systems. [The silver lining] is that a lot of people around the world, in addition to the students at University of Queensland, are waking up to the reality of the Chinese Communist Party. Something that is a relatively new phenomenon just over the past few years perhaps. Now, what is it that you would tell people out there in the world? How should they understand this?
Mr. Pavlou: Look, this is fundamentally a government that operates concentration camps on a scale not seen since the Holocaust. We’ve not yet seen a perfect dictatorship like this, where they are so adept with surveillance technology [and] control over the Internet that they can wield almost total and complete power over every single minute detail of people’s lives. This is the Orwellian society we always had nightmares about.
For me, fighting for human rights is such an essential part of life. I’m a history student at the University of Queensland, and reading about the international community’s atrocious inaction in the face of things like the Rwandan genocide, the terrible genocide of the Bosnian Muslims, I was always shocked by cowardice of so many of our international leaders, political business leaders. I always sort of tried to promise myself when this type of terrible human rights catastrophe inevitably rears its head again in history, I wouldn’t be one of those cowardly people who knowing what was happening would look the other way.
If you believe that human beings should be treated with respect and dignity, you must oppose the Chinese Communist Party, and you must oppose the Chinese government. The Chinese government is very fond of using the line: “Those are Western values. Human rights are sort of a Western concept.” That is absolutely rubbish. We are talking about a very fundamental idea that all human beings hold equal worth and value, and therefore should be treated with respect and dignity. They should be free from imprisonment, torture, murder. How is that a Western ideal? That is a universal ideal. No human being anywhere would ever want to be subject themselves to torture, murder, imprisonment, for no reason. No one would ever want that to happen to themselves or their family. These are universal ideals. No one wants to face this type of suffering and oppression.
If you believe that human lives are precious, then fight against this Chinese government. Think about whether it’s moral to trade with this government while it operates concentration camps, while it persecutes Uyghurs, while it carries out genocidal policies. Will you be able to look your children or your grandchildren in the eye one day and say: I knew what was happening. I knew that there were 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. I knew that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Tibetans were being oppressed and slaughtered by the Chinese government. I knew that the Chinese government was bashing and beating students in the streets of Hong Kong. I knew that practitioners of Christianity, Islam, and Falun Gong practitioners in China were being persecuted simply for their religious belief. If you knew all these things, and yet you decided to look the other way, will you be able to look your grandchildren or your children in the eye? Will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror? Will you be able to sleep at night?
I believe we bear more responsibility for what occurs in this world. Human rights don’t stop at the border. We can’t just simply say, “It’s not our problem that people are being slaughtered for no reason. Simply these people were born in another country, so it’s no concern to us.” What is the moral justification for believing that because someone was unlucky in the lottery of birth to be born under totalitarian rule, that their life doesn’t matter. There’s no rational or moral justification for that. It’s simple selfishness. It’s simple cowardice, I think, in the face of moral crisis.
This is the moral catastrophe, the moral crisis of our time. One of the most terrible humanitarian catastrophes we’ve ever faced as human beings in all of human history. And if you believe that human lives should be valued and protected, fight against this government. Ask yourself whether you’re complicit in its atrocities by doing business with it. I think we should talk about a boycott divestment sanctions campaign against this government.
Mr. Jekielek: To your point, basically we have all these situations that you describe in China. The reality is that the Chinese people face these moral questions [of whether to stand up or not]. I’ve heard people describe this situation, in fact someone very close to me, as the “and then they came for me moment,” right? With coronavirus, because of the way the policy was applied or not applied.
Mr. Pavlou: Well, even if we set the pandemic to one side for the moment, that principle, “and then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak out,” that principle does apply, because today, it’s Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, ordinary Chinese people. Tomorrow, it will be others. The peoples of Africa will be next, as their countries are colonized with debt diplomacy. Australia will be next, Southeast Asia will be next, Europe will be next. The whole world will ultimately be threatened by this totalitarian dictatorship because it’s an ultra-nationalist totalitarian dictatorship. It believes in aggressive expansion. It believes that other countries should be subordinated. We will ultimately suffer as a result of this government. The famous Churchill quote, “The appeaser is the one who believes the crocodile will eat him last” is very true. You can appease this government, but the crocodile eventually eats you too.
Mr. Jekielek: You have this groundswell of student support from the people that elected you, but not all students. There’s actually a UQ Union President who is kind of calling into question your mental health. I’m wondering why you think that is happening.
Mr. Pavlou: Yeah, well people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will have seen. I posted footage of the President of the Student Union labeling me as schizophrenic and mentally unhinged in a live TV interview he did. He did that interview in his presidential office while being paid by students. So he was using time students have paid for, not representing students, not doing the work of the Student Union, but actually just defaming me by labeling me mentally unhinged and schizophrenic. These are very terrible. These are very defamatory attacks and also quite vicious. Powerful people in the university administration [and] the Student Union are doing anything and everything in their power to defame me, slander me, and to try to get rid of me. It’s very dirty politics. Luckily, I’m being exposed to it early, because that’s what politics is like.
I’m not really scared of these people, because I go up against the Chinese government. This is a government that kills people. I don’t necessarily care at the end of the day what [a] big boy in the UQ Union Presidency says about me and maybe says a few mean words about me. Boohoo, I’m not gonna cry. I’m not a Uyghur in a concentration camp. I’m not a Hong Konger being beaten and shot in the streets of Hong Kong. I’m not facing the terrible, terrible injustices all the people are facing for speaking out. So I’m not going to cry when the Student Union President and the university administration tries to silence me so they can uphold their status quo. I’ll fight tooth and nail against it, but I’m not going to cry, because fundamentally for a lot of people, politics is a lot more brutal. If you’re a Uyghur, you’re a Hong Konger, you’re a Tibetan, [or] you’re an ordinary Chinese person, politics is far, far more brutal.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, such a pleasure to have you on, and I wish you the best of success in everything.
Mr. Pavlou: Thanks so much. I just hope, more and more, we can fight to uphold freedom of speech and fight to uphold human rights in China, internationally, everywhere.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.