Drew Pavlou addressed the Italian senate on his concerns about his uni's relationship with Beijing. Image by Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS

Education

Banned UQ student addresses Italian senate

2020-07-31 16:47:13

A suspended Australian student critical of his Queensland university’s relationship with Beijing has found more support overseas after addressing the Italian senate.

Drew Pavlou, 21, spoke at a conference on the safeguarding of human rights throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final-year arts and philosophy student, who has previously won backing from two UK politicians, on Wednesday told Italy’s upper house why he was “outraged” by the University of Queensland’s “close economic relationship” with the Chinese Communist Party.

He said he was concerned that UQ derived roughly 20 per cent of its overall revenue from China, which orchestrated a police and security crackdown in Hong Kong.

Mr Pavlou also highlighted China’s treatment of its Uyghur population, where more than one million people from the minority ethnic group are forcibly detained and monitored in camps.

Australia has backed foreign media reports describing the camps as detention centres but the Chinese government says they are for “re-education”.

“We understand this government is behind numerous atrocities – I don’t want my university to be complicit in these terrible crimes,” Mr Pavlou said in the pre-recorded five-minute interview.

“We don’t want blood to stain our hands. We don’t want to be complicit in the genocide of Uyghur people.”

He appeared on the invitation of Senator Roberto Rampi from the centre-left Democratic Party.

Mr Pavlou was in May suspended from UQ for two years following a disciplinary hearing that examined 11 allegations of misconduct reportedly linked to his on-campus activism supporting Hong Kong and criticising the CCP.

British MP Andrew Rosindell in July wrote to Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, expressing his concern about the situation, which the former attorney-general said in response “greatly saddens” him.

Days later, Mr Pavlou had his suspension reduced to one semester, with all but two allegations of serious misconduct thrown out.

UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese said the findings of misconduct against the outspoken student did not concern his personal or political views about China or Hong Kong.

“The university has consistently said that no student should be penalised for the lawful expression of personal views,” Mr Varghese said in a statement.

“This should finally put to rest the false allegations that this process has been an attack on freedom of expression.”

Mr Pavlou said he hoped international support would add momentum to his call for a parliamentary inquiry into CCP influence at Australian universities.

“It was a great honour and it meant a lot that members of the Italian parliament were concerned about my story,” he told AAP on Thursday.