The University of Queensland is doubling down on its legal threats against student activist Drew Pavlou. Already facing expulsion for leading anti-Beijing protests on campus, Pavlou is now being threatened with criminal prosecution by the University’s lawyers.

In an interview for The BFD, Drew says that he has attracted the ire of powerful people at the UQ and in the Chinese government for criticising their relationship. “When you attract the ire of powerful people…they’ll throw the rule book at you…they look for technicalities to give them cover for cracking down on you for exposing whatever their wrongdoings are”.

True to that form, the university’s lawyers are drumming up new charges.

The 20-year-old philosophy student, who organised a campus protest last July in support of Hong Kong’s independence movement, received a letter from UQ lawyers last week accusing him of contempt of court over his intended use of internal emails in his defence at the disciplinary hearing. The emails are understood to have been provided by UQ under subpoena, brought by Mr Pavlou, in a separate court action he took against China’s consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, after the diplomat issued a statement condemning the protests as “anti-China separatist activities”.

An elected student member of the UQ senate, Mr Pavlou sought an apology and retraction in Brisbane Magistrates Court from Dr Xu — appointed an adjunct professor by UQ last year — claiming the comments incited death threats against him.

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Pavlou confirmed that his lawyers had received a letter from legal firm Clayton Utz, acting for UQ, threatening to commence proceedings for contempt of court.

It is alleged that Mr Pavlou signed an undertaking not to use any document gleaned in the Magistrates Court action for any other purpose.

Mr Pavlou accused UQ of attempting to “intimidate me” ahead of his disciplinary hearing[…]

Mr Pavlou faces 11 allegations at the disciplinary hearing.

He will be represented pro bono by Brisbane barrister and freedom of speech advocate Tony Morris QC.

Tony Morris is the QC who also represented the “QUT Five” – students at another Queensland university who were subjected to years-long, secretive proceedings by the Australian Human Rights Council, after they posted about being thrown out of an “indigenous only” computer lab.

In a 56-page submission to the UQ disciplinary panel, on behalf of Mr Pavlou, Mr Morris alleged that UQ had put its ties with China ahead of the rights of a student to protest.

In the submission, Mr Morris cited the existence of UQ’s Confucius Institute — a Beijing-funded “education” centre often accused of being propaganda units — the Chinese government funding of four courses and the high number of Chinese students attending the university.

Previously, UQ has denied that it took disciplinary action against Mr Pavlou because of his protests[…]

“Universities reasonably expect that students comply with conduct policies and charters that reflect both the organisation’s values and community expectations.

“the University is a place where people should be free to express themselves, staff and students should enjoy the freedom to protest and disagree”

academic freedom means…the freedom of staff and students to express their opinions in relation to the University”

– UQ Model Code for the Protection of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

For an organisation which claims not to be doing the dirty work for a brutal communist dictatorship, the University of Queensland is certainly giving a good impression of doing exactly that.

Of course, it’s surely a mere coincidence that Drew Pavlou’s activism has the potential to threaten billions of dollars of funding to the university.

Because we all know that our universities are well above such grubby self-interest.

Cartoon by Johannes Leak. The BFD.

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