December 9, 2022

China human rights activist Drew Pavlou escorted from Parliament House, but federal police won’t say why | Australian politics

Liberal senator James Paterson said he was “concerned” that activist Drew Pavlou was escorted from Parliament House by federal police yesterday after the pair had met, but the AFP and the parliament won’t say why he was asked to leave the building.

Police officers told Pavlou he was considered an “active protester”, while sitting in a public cafe in Parliament House drinking a coffee, and that “higher ups” had said they wanted him to leave the building.

“An Australian federal police team interrupted me while I was quietly having lunch at Parliament House and directed me to leave parliament or face trespass charges as a ‘high risk individual’,” Pavlou said.

The Brisbane man is an anti-Communist party activist who has staged high-profile protests against Chinese human rights abuses and for pro-democracy causes in Hong Kong, including interrupting July’s Wimbledon tennis final by holding a sign and wearing a shirt reading “where is Peng Shuai?”.

I recorded the moment an Australian Federal Police team ordered me to leave Parliament House or risk being arrested for trespass. They ordered me to leave because “higher ups” seemed me “high risk” due to my past protests against the Chinese government

— Drew Pavlou (@DrewPavlou) November 23, 2022

He was arrested in London later that month after staging a small protest outside the Chinese embassy, holding a Uyghur flag. Pavlou said he was arrested over a false “bomb threat” delivered to the Chinese embassy that he claims came from a fake email address designed to frame him.

On Wednesday, Pavlou was in Canberra to meet Paterson, who is the shadow minister for countering foreign interference and a former chair of parliament’s intelligence committee, as well as the committee’s current chair, Labor MP Peter Khalil. He had also spoken to activists on the front lawn of Parliament House who were protesting in support of the Uyghur minority.

Pavlou said he had moved to the Queen’s Terrace cafe, in a public area of Parliament House, after his meeting with Paterson and while he waited to meet Khalil. In tweets published about 1.30pm, Pavlou claimed police had asked him to leave the building.

In video of the incident, seen by Guardian Australia, two AFP officers approached Pavlou and asked him to leave Parliament House until his meeting later in the day.

“Come back at six o’clock, that’s fine,” one said.

When Pavlou asked why he was being asked to leave, another officer responded “because you’re an active protester, they don’t allow active protesters in the house.” Pavlou responded that he wasn’t protesting, just eating lunch.

“You’ve mentioned what your intentions are for the rest of the day,” an officer replied.

“That’s just the policy and thats come down from the boss. We’re happy for you to come for your meeting but hanging out here outside of that …”

One officer said Pavlou had been deemed “high risk”, noting that parliament staff were “antsy” after recent protests where a demonstrator glued her hand to a painting earlier this month.

“Unfortunately it has come down from higher up,” the officer said. “They wanted you out right now, but we were able to bargain with them.”

Pavlou agreed to leave, but said he was shocked at the request.

“I know I’ve protested in the past but I’ve never protested against parliament,” he said. “Why would I?”

Pavlou claimed after he left parliament that another email, under a false account bearing his name, was sent to a Parliament House address making another violent threat. Pavlou said he was copied on the email by the person who sent it.

A spokesperson for the Department of Parliamentary Services said it “doesn’t comment on security matters”.

An AFP spokesperson declined to explain why Pavlou was asked to leave.

“The AFP can confirm that they engaged a male at Parliament House today who then departed the building voluntarily,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.

“No arrests were made as a result of this incident. No further comment will be made on this matter.”

Paterson said he didn’t know why Pavlou was asked to leave.

“Australian citizens who protest frequently visit Parliament House for meetings, including union officials and environmental activists, without being asked to leave by the AFP,” he said.

“I am concerned that Mr Pavlou’s lawful activism is being cited as a reason why he was not permitted in areas of Parliament House open to the public, particularly as he had bipartisan meetings in the secure area of the building without incident.”

Khalil appeared on ABC TV shortly after Pavlou published his claims on Twitter. He noted he hadn’t yet met Pavlou, and was unsure of the details of the incident, but said it was a matter for the parliament’s presiding officers.

“I think it’s with them at the moment, the Speaker [of the house] and the president [of the Senate] who have control over the security of the house … I’ll leave that to them and I won’t comment on that because I don’t know the facts,” Khalil said.

The House of Representatives Speaker, Milton Dick, said the request did not come from his office.

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