By Tenzin Phuntsok Doring
Despite my poor and mediocre standard in English, I forced myself with all the vocabularies I know to write this following the news of (my dear friend, university mate, a student leader, an activist, most importantly a passionate voice for the freedom of Tibetan, Chinese, Ugyurs, Taiwan and HK) Drew Pavlou being investigated and facing expulsion from the University of Queensland. Above all, he is a kind lad, and news of his possible expulsion from the university had all and sundry baffled and shocked.
My first encounter with Drew Pavlou was at the University of Queensland, though I had prior knowledge of him being manhandled by Chinese students during a pro-Hongkong peaceful gathering at the university in late July last year, a video of which went viral followed by Chinese consulate in Brisbane, Xu Jie praising the acts of those Chinese students in the university for which the consulate earned light reprimand from the Australian foreign minister.
It was Kyizom Dhongdue, head of the Australia Tibet Council and exiled based Member of Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, representing Australasia who called me if I could join in a peaceful protest being organised by Transparency for UQ in the wake of growing concerns of Confucius Institute being used as a political tool to influence academic organisations and silence criticism against China. Given the fact that no Tibetan had ever spoken in such a gathering at such a prestigious university, I readily accepted Kyizom’s offer and join them to represent ATC and Tibetan as a whole. This was also the first time I set my foot in the campus which boast of ubiquitous Chinese students, the sight of which one might find it hard to eschew.
It was early August, a fortnight following the July incident. I was greeted and welcomed by Maddy, a young and energetic student leader who was leading the protest alongside Drew Pavlou. We walked further inside the campus crossing through the crowds of students bustling with one or the other activities. Suddenly, two lads and a girl student appeared before us to be introduced by Maddy. My eyes brightened when she said one of them was Drew Pavlou. Those news and viral videos of him being physically attacked by the Chinese students flashed through my mind. He is a young, energetic and outspoken lad who said the other guy he was accompanying was acting as his guard for some time. Clearly the university had not provided security to him despite the incident and imminent threat in the campus to him.
The protest was to begin around eleven morning, and we had nearly an hour during which Drew’s friends took me to a coffee shop where they briefed me about the soon-to-be protest, while I availed the remaining time explaining about China’s invasion of Tibet and subsequent events that finally led to Dalai Lama’s fleeing and the current human rights situation under Communist government of China. On that account, I learned that tdespite having little knowledge about Tibet they did sympathise with our story following my attempt to dig further on China-Tibet issue.
At eleven o’clock, I was brought to a Great Court, which is a green ground perfect for a romance and friendship in the campus. However, on that day it became a perfect ground for voicing against issues that matter to us. It aptly was in front of the Confucius Institute on whom our whole protest was directed. The protest drew lots of crowds as well as medias. They were chanting slogans against the University Vice Chancellor with whom the relationship between China’s Confucius Institute and the University deepened over the years while the same institute has become a subject and matter of national concern for Australia, United States and Canada, and even some of these institutes in other parts of Australia are being investigated.
This was first time I spoke in Australia; the first time I spoke in such a prestigious university, and the first time ever I spoke in front of any Chinese institute amid the so-called Sino-ubiquitous university.
Since July 2019, Drew has become a subject of discussion amongst the Chinese students in the university and even of the Chinese Consulate in Brisbane. He is constantly under the surveillance of Chinese students, a victim of being trolled racist. When we went for a protest sometime back, we were being followed and stalked and one student even managed to click us from a hideous location who was duly reported to the security. A Chinese consulate, Xu Jie even praised the Chinese students at the university who physically assaulted Drew Pavlou for which the consulate himself has been sued by Drew and is facing another hearing to which the consulate is certainly not making his presence.
Drew has done nothing wrong apart from vouching and voicing for the freedom of other nationalities such as Tibetans, Ugyurs, Taiwanese and HongKongers. His fight is for the voiceless and an attempt to hold China accountable for its acts of commission and omission about human rights. His determination for human rights remained so strong that even after the July incident, he continued to fight for human rights months after months during which I had fortune of working and speaking along with him. If China critics outside China could face such a situation where his voice will be silenced through expulsion then the University of Queensland is not in Brisbane, but in Beijing or under Beijing. We don’t want Australia to be turned into China’s largest province outside mainland. Even a small island, Taiwan is not acting in the way Australia is confirming to China. If Taiwan can survive by standing against China, how come Australia can’t. It must be made known that University of Queensland is in the Queensland and not in Beijing. By silencing Drew Pavlou, it will only impact the image and prestige of the University of Queensland, inside which lies the Confucius Institute. The possible expulsion of Drew Pavlou is sawing the seeds for Sinicization of University of Queensland. I am sure the Chinese students particularly those involved in the July incident must be celebrating his possible expulsion. while feeling red-faced due to Coronovirus that Wuhan donated to the world under red Communist government of China. If Wuhan incident is not enough to suffice and substantiate China’s lie and disinformation, should Drew Pavlau faced expulsion to provide evidence of China’s influence in Australia?
The author is a Tibetan activist based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.