An email bomb threat, a Chinese conspiracy, an Aussie activist and the 'best day of his life'

·News Editor
·7-min read

An Australian activist's long-running campaign of criticism against the Chinese Communist Party has taken a dark turn, with the 23-year-old stuck in legal limbo overseas after "walking into a trap" he believes was set for him.

In what is a David versus Goliath battle, he is accusing Chinese state actors of framing him with a bomb threat emailed to the Chinese embassy in London in his name.

Drew Pavlou was arrested by British police on July 21, shortly after arriving to conduct a protest against Beijing’s oppression of the country's Uyghur Muslim minority.

Despite only telling a few fellow protesters about the stunt over encrypted messaging service Signal, someone knew he was going to be there.

"The thing that raises a lot of questions is how did they know that I would be at the embassy at the day, at that time," he told Yahoo News Australia.

"I walked into a trap."

What he didn't know at the time, he says, was an email had been sent to the Chinese embassy in London, allegedly from him, threatening to blow it up if they didn't release the estimated one million Uyghur people held in Chinese camps.

Drew Pavlou claims only a government actor could've known of his intentions.
Drew Pavlou claims only a snooping government actor could've known of his protest intentions. Source: Google Maps/AAP

While in police custody hours later, he was eventually shown the email during what he described as a "bullying" interrogation in the early hours of the morning at the hands of Met Police.

"It’s almost laughable," he said of the message sent from address drewpavlou99@protonmail (practically identical to his Gmail address promoted on his Twitter account).

"I feel like the Met Police have stitched me up ... There is clearly no evidence apart from the fact that there is an email with my name in it."

Mr Pavlou has been in touch with the CEO of encrypted email service ProtonMail. His lawyer, barrister Michael Polak, is urging British police to request the IP of the email sender, which they believe will point back to China.

"We’re very keen for them to find the IP address that’s come from," Mr Polak told Yahoo. "We suspect it's come from the Chinese authorities."

Weeks later no formal charges have been laid but police, while coy, are not letting the issue go. And potential jail time is still on the table.

Mr Pavlou – who earlier this year ran for a Senate seat in Queensland – has been held on pre-charge bail, also known as police bail. That has left him worried about leaving the country in recent weeks with potential hearings on the horizon.

"I feel quite strongly there is pressure from the Chinese embassy to drag this out and make an example out of me," he said.

And he's far from the only one who thinks that. British writer and politician Edward Lucas is among those who agree.

"The Chinese authorities and their allies are abusing our legal system to intimidate their critics," he wrote earlier this month in the UK Times, regarding the case.

Other CCP critics complain of hacks and spoofed emails

Mr Pavlou has previously had his emails hacked by the Chinese government. Other vocal critics of the CCP have also publicly complained about being on the receiving end of such tactics, including hacking and spoofed emails.

Mr Polak says he has also been targeted by such underhanded tactics when representing human rights cases involving China, he said, including fake emails sent appearing to come from his chambers.

"It’s something we’ve seen quite a bit in the UK in regards to activists," he said. "There does seem to be an orchestrated attempt to silence critics."

Drew Pavlou making a statement at Wimbledon (left) and interrupting a speech by the Chinese ambassador at UTS (right)
Drew Pavlou making a statement at Wimbledon (left) and interrupting a speech by the Chinese ambassador at UTS (right). Source: Reuters/AAP

Such actions are typically the work of a sprawling CCP entity known as the United Front Work Department which conducts overseas espionage and influence campaigns.

Mr Pavlou's predicament comes after a highly visible protest at Wimbledon over missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai who vanished after accusing a powerful government official of pressuring her into sex.

Then in June, Mr Pavlou was the ringleader as multiple protesters dramatically interrupted a speech being given by China’s ambassador to Australia at a Sydney university after planting themselves in the audience.

"That was probably the best one I’ve ever done," he recalled to Yahoo earlier this week.

"They actually held their tongue after that one. With hindsight, they must have been … waiting to get back at me."

During a highly talked about speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador seemed to relish in the latest legal troubles of Mr Pavlou, brining him up unprompted.

"Chinese ambassador Xiao Qian trolls Drew Pavlou at the Press Club, comparing his arrest and bail in London to Cheng Lei’s two year secretive detention in Beijing," ABC journalist Bill Birtles noted.

"Given Pavlou says the Chinese embassy in UK framed him with a false bomb threat, it’s no accident Xiao mentioned him."

Speaking to Yahoo, Mr Pavlou called the moment "bizarre".

"To randomly bring me up and smirk," he said. The 23-year-old felt like the ambassador was saying: "Look what we can do to you Drew, the flimsiest of evidence and look what we can do."

Alleged bomb hoax draws spotlight to Aussie activist

Mr Pavlou had been staying in a London hotel after exhausting his couch surfing options, funded with the help of a GoFundMe campaign.

He is used to the death threats from zealous Chinese nationalists, but his situation and the threat of jail had been weighing on him in recent weeks.

"It's honestly the worst thing I’ve experienced," he said on Wednesday night.

While his mental health is suffering, his profile is growing from the saga. He has received vocal support from other high profile human rights activists including Bill Browder, hedge fund CEO and head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign.

Four weeks stranded in London thanks to Chinese government attempts to destroy my life.

Earlier this week, TIME magazine covered the "curious case" of the alleged bomb threat hoax taking the story to prominence outside of Australia, the UK and China.

While it's been a difficult month, Met Police released Mr Pavlou from police bail over the weekend, freeing him to return to Australia.

Finally flying home and due to touch down in Brisbane late on Sunday night, he sent a defiant and elated message to supporters.

"Four weeks stranded in London thanks to Chinese government attempts to destroy my life with fake legal charges. Never been happier getting on a flight in my entire life," he posted on Twitter while boarding a plane.

"Honestly the best day of my life."

Mr Pavlou will have to return to the UK in October when he is expected to be required to face police again over the emailed bomb threat.

"I trust fully that I’m going to be exonerated in the end, but at what cost," he wondered to Yahoo.

He maintains his belief that it was a government-linked actor behind the bomb hoax. If not, "it would have to be the coincidence of the century."

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