Activist arrested over fake ‘bomb threat’ after London pro-Uyghur protest

Drew Pavlou says he was held without a lawyer or consular access after Chinese embassy claimed to have received bomb threat
Drew Pavlou posing for a photo at the University of Queensland campus in Brisbane on 1 September 2020 (AFP)

An Australian human rights activist protesting against the oppression of Uyghur Muslims in China was arrested in London after authorities were sent a false bomb threat that had allegedly been delivered to the Chinese embassy in the city.

Drew Pavlou held a protest outside Beijing’s embassy in the British capital, displaying a Uyghur flag to highlight the plight of Turkic Muslim minority communities in China’s Xinjiang region.

Pavlou was arrested just minutes into the protest, after officers alleged that he had emailed a bomb threat to the embassy. He has since been released.

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.”

The 23-year-old activist strongly denied sending the email, describing the allegation as “shocking”.

“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,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.

“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.”

‘Denied consular access’

In a thread posted on Twitter, Pavlou said that he had been detained by London’s Metropolitan police incommunicado for 23 hours, with no access to a lawyer.

He claimed that his phone had been seized and that he was pressured into handing over his password. He added that he was denied access to Australian consular officials.

Australia’s foreign affairs ministry confirmed the arrest in a statement.

“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,” it said.

The ministry added that it would raise Pavlou’s claims of being denied consular access whilst being detained with UK authorities.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said that it does not confirm or comment on the identity of anyone arrested who has not been charged with a criminal offence.

“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 a long history of protesting against human rights abuses by China, including interrupting a speech by China’s ambassador in Sydney earlier this year to denounce Beijing’s treatment of Muslims.

The Chinese government is accused of detaining more than one million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region, and subjecting the community to abuses that some have labelled a “genocide”. China denies the allegations of abuse.

Last month, Pavlou held up a sign during the Wimbledon final with the words “Where is Peng Shuai?,” referring to a Chinese tennis player who briefly disappeared after alleging that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior official in the Chinese communist party.