Australian activist Drew Pavlou has been arrested in the UK over a false “bomb threat” delivered to the Chinese embassy in London that he claims came from a fake email address designed to frame him.
Pavlou said the “absurd” email claimed he would blow up the embassy over Beijing’s oppression of its Uyghur Muslim minority, but that it was confected by the embassy in order to have him arrested.
Pavlou said he held a “small peaceful human rights protest” carrying a Uyghur flag outside the Chinese embassy in central London. In retaliation, he alleged, the embassy reported him to police as a suspected “terrorist”.
The fake email allegedly said: “this is Drew Pavlou, you have until 12pm to stop the Uyghur genocide or I blow up the embassy with a bomb. Regards, Drew.”
Pavlou, a longstanding and vociferous critic of Beijing’s oppression of China’s Uyghur minority, said the email was allegedly sent from an account: [email protected].
The Metropolitan police confirmed it had received a report of a bomb threat made by email, and had arrested a man outside the embassy because of his “suspicious behaviour”, and that he had attempted to glue his hand to the embassy.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London confirmed it had “reported to the UK police about the terrorist threat email it had received”.
Pavlou was born in 1999. He said the account was fake, and he had no involvement with it and had never sent any threat.
“The UK police arrested me. They said the Chinese embassy had reported me as a terrorist, as a bomb threat. I was so shocked, I’ve always been a peaceful protester.
“They’ve made up this email claiming that I sent in the bomb threat. It’s just absolute insanity. Why would I throw away my life like that? I’m a peaceful protester. It’s just so, so shocking.”
The Chinese Embassy in London reported me as a terrorist for peacefully protesting outside, UK police arrested me and held me incommunicado so no one knew where I was, I was inside for 23 hours, I want to go home I miss my family but they’ve threatened to arrest me at the border pic.twitter.com/fQgfZVnE3s — Drew Pavlou (@DrewPavlou) July 23, 2022
“I miss my family, I can’t leave the country, they’ve threatened to arrest me at the border. I’ve done nothing wrong. I just wanted to peacefully protest and the Chinese embassy have invented this narrative that I’m a terrorist. It’s insanity.”
Pavlou said online he had been arrested by the Metropolitan police and detained 23 hours without access to a lawyer.
“UK police handcuffed me in stress position and held me incommunicado for 23 hours with no access to lawyers. Facing seven years in prison,” he wrote on Twitter.
“They wouldn’t let me talk to anyone on the outside, no one knew where I was.”
I went to the London Chinese Embassy to hold a small peaceful protest and the Embassy reported me to UK police as a bomb threat. UK Police handcuffed me in stress position and held me incommunicado for 23 hours with no access to lawyers. Facing 7 years in prison. PLEASE SHARE — Drew Pavlou (@DrewPavlou) July 22, 2022
Australia’s foreign affairs department confirmed Pavlou’s arrest.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has offered consular assistance to Drew Pavlou, an Australian who was arrested, and subsequently released, in the United Kingdom,” the department said in a statement.
“Officials from Australia’s High Commission in London will raise Mr Pavlou’s claim that he was denied consular access before being released with UK authorities.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police said it does not confirm or comment on the identity of anyone arrested who has not been charged with a criminal offence.
He confirmed that on 21 July, staff at the Chinese embassy “alerted police to a bomb threat made by email”.
“At around 4:30pm on 21 July, a man was detained at the Chinese embassy in Portland Place due to his suspicious behaviour. He was found to be in possession of a quantity of glue and had attempted to glue his hand to the outside of the embassy building.
“The man was arrested on suspicion of trespass on diplomatic premises, communicating false information to make a bomb hoax and criminal damage.”
The man was taken into custody at Charing Cross police station, was offered legal advice and a duty solicitor called at 8:22pm, according to the man’s custody record, the spokesperson said.
“The man was released from custody at 3:56pm on 22 June. He has been bailed to return pending further enquiries.”
The spokesperson said the Met complied with codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in relation to the detention of people in custody.
“Anyone who wishes to complain about their treatment by the Metropolitan police can contact the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards or the UK Independent Office for Police Conduct.”
Pavlou has consistently protested China’s authoritarian regime, in particular Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority.
Last month, he was ejected from the Wimbledon’s men’s singles final after holding up a sign saying “where is Peng Shuai?”, a reference to now-retired Chinese women’s player, who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese Communist party official, before disappearing and then retracting the allegation in a series of carefully staged-managed interviews.
In June, Pavlou interrupted a speech by the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, in Sydney, saying: “Stop platforming murderers, this is a representative of a dictatorship with 1 million Muslims in concentration camps.”
Pavlou’s protest campaign first rose to prominence at the University of Queensland, where he studies, and where he demonstrated against the influence of the university’s Chinese government-funded Confucius Institute.
He ran for the Senate in Queensland in the federal election this year, but was not elected.
Xinjiang, in China’s north-west, is the site of a years-long crackdown by Chinese authorities on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, with broad, hardline policies of religious, cultural, linguistic and physical oppression.
An estimated 1 million people have been incarcerated in a vast network of detention and reeducation camps, which Beijing insists are “vocational education and training centres”. Document leaks have revealed thousands have been arrested or jailed for alleged crimes including studying scripture, growing a beard or travelling overseas, and that authorities have established “shoot to kill” policies in response to attempted escapes.
Human rights groups and several governments have labelled the campaign a genocide or crime against humanity. Beijing denies all allegations of mistreatment and says its policies are to counter-terrorism and religious extremism.