26 April 2020

Student-Activist Warns of ‘Chilling Effect’ After China’s Patriotic Media Singles Him Out

The pandemic engineers at work. ''I’m 20 years old and a nuclear-armed superpower has officially condemned me,'' ...

From The Sydney Morning Herald

By Jocelyn Garcia

A human rights student-activist who has been singled out for criticism by Beijing's patriotic media said his case risks creating a ''chilling effect'' on free expression within Australia.

The Global Times published an article contending that Australian students support the expulsion of Drew Pavlou, who is facing 11 allegations of misconduct at the University of Queensland for criticising the university's strong ties with Beijing.

''I’m 20 years old and a nuclear-armed superpower has officially condemned me,'' said Pavlou, a UQ student, after Global Times, a daily newspaper closely linked to the Communist Party of China, published the article calling him an ''anti-China rioter''.

The article in China's media followed complaints about his protest activities and comments on social media. The university has alleged Pavlou's activities contravened integrity and harassment policies in place as well as the student charter.

Pavlou now faces a disciplinary hearing with the possibility of expulsion.

UQ has said Pavlou, who was elected a member of the UQ Senate, has damaged the school's reputation by engaging in intimidating and disrespectful conduct.

However, a petition of support for Pavlou against UQ has attracted more than 22,000 signatures.

Pavlou said the call for his expulsion by the Global Times, which was a ''mouthpiece for the communist party'', was unprecedented.

''I really strenuously reject the Global Times saying that I’m an anti-China rioter and it’s a really irresponsible statement of hate towards me,'' he said.

''If I were to be expelled, it would demonstrate that this is what happens to you if you speak out. It could have a chilling effect against protesters in Chinese parties in Australia.''

Liberal MPs have urged the university to avoid taking a hard-line approach to Pavlou, given the implications for freedom of expression within Australia.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted university education, delaying and preventing the return of thousands of Chinese nationals to Australian campuses, the sector's reliance on foreign students for revenue had come under scrutiny.

In 2018, about 400,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities. About a third of the students were Chinese.

Chinese students make up the largest international cohort at UQ, with more than 11,000 enrolling at UQ in the past five years. The university has research collaborations and commercialisation partnerships with China.

International education was worth $32.4 billion to the Australian economy between 2017 to 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show.

Pavlou said the Global Times story was laughable at first until fear began to creep in.

''I’ve received death threats and I’m fearing for my safety,'' he said.

''It makes me feel really unsafe that a state media outlet has attacked me. It’s like they put a hit on me.''

When asked whether this would affect the upcoming hearing, a UQ spokeswoman said it was inappropriate to comment on specifics of Pavlou's disciplinary matter.

''However, the university rejects Mr Pavlou’s statements that the university’s process is an attempt to penalise him for airing his political beliefs,'' he said.

''UQ’s disciplinary processes seek to address alleged contraventions of university policy – including when complaints have been received.

''They do not seek to prevent students from expressing their views or to limit their right to freedom of speech.''

UQ's policy states it will consider a decision based on findings of facts alone.

Pavlou was assaulted last year on campus for leading a pro-Hong Kong democracy protest.

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