Queensland student ‘suing’ university and leaders in China row

Suspended campaigner says he is seeking A$3.5m damages in case sparked by controversy over university’s China ties

June 11, 2020

A University of Queensland student who opposes ties with China says he is suing the institution and its leaders for A$3.5 million (£1.9 million).

Drew Pavlou, the undergraduate staff-elected member of the UQ senate, said he had initiated proceedings against the university, chancellor Peter Varghese and vice-chancellor Peter Høj in the Supreme Court of Queensland.

He said he is claiming damages for alleged “breach of contract, negligence, defamation, deceit and conspiracy”.

“It’s not about money, it’s about sending a message,” he tweeted, describing the action as a “David vs Goliath” case.

UQ said in a statement reported by Australian media: “When we receive a formal notice of claim we will consider it and respond through the appropriate channels.”

Late last month, Mr Pavlou was suspended for two years by the university’s disciplinary board over 11 allegations of misconduct. He says the university is penalising him for his activism against the Chinese Communist Party. UQ denies this.

Mr Pavlou is appealing the suspension with the senate’s disciplinary appeals committee. He remains an enrolled student and senate member pending the appeal, although he has reportedly withdrawn from courses this semester.

Media reports have cast doubt on allegations that Mr Pavlou abused a UQ postgraduate and staff member on social media. 

The Supreme Court action is not Mr Pavlou’s first attempt at suing senior UQ staff. Last year he initiated proceedings against Chinese consul general Xu Jie, who is also an adjunct professor at the university, claiming that Dr Xu’s media commentary had exposed him to death threats.

Mr Pavlou has also launched a petition seeking Professor Høj’s dismissal.

His case has been cited in Chinese media reports as alleged evidence of the discrimination that caused the Ministry of Education in Beijing to warn Australia-bound students of safety concerns.

Mr Pavlou says Chinese media coverage has encouraged more threats on social media and forced him to seek police protection for his family.

Meanwhile, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties has called for his appeal to be heard by an “independent person” rather than a subcommittee of the university’s governing body.


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