These tactics are nothing new, silencing discourse on the Chinese Communist Party is well known in many parts of the world. Australian Human rights activist, Drew Pavlou is no stranger to these kinds of threats.
I unfortunately am, and now face 7 years in prison alongside Drew.
It has been a massive wakeup call despite my personal history with China. One that stretches back to a vacation in 2014 and a brief stint studying Chinese & International Relations at the University of Leeds in 2019. I was more than aware of the multitude of human rights abuses committed by the Communist Party in China, but never did I believe they would hit so close to home.
At around 4:00PM on Thursday 21st of July, Drew and myself were arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in London, facing multiple unwarranted charges, with most serious including collusion towards a bomb threat made against, and potentially by the Chinese Embassy or CCP sympathisers.
The bomb threat was made via email, using Drew’s name but due to the nature of secure and private email servers such as Proton, the source of the email has yet to be confirmed. Chinese state media, The Global Times, are already framing Drew as a terrorist with the bomb threat itself being sent just hours before the protest action commenced.
After a very minor altercation over flags that included the Tibetan, Uyghur and Taiwanese ones, security grew increasingly aggressive towards Drew as he stood his ground and continued to protest, even pulling out a copy of the New Statesman for much needed company. Not for a second did I think my reporting would be put in jeopardy – so I continued to film.
The embassy premises were largely quiet with little alarm raised from the inside. Eerily calm for an embassy that had just happened to receive a bomb threat.
Continuing to record every detail of the protest, it was hard to ignore the steel barricades outside the embassy doors – alien to any other embassy on Portland Place. Whilst Drew and security were tussling, an unnerving focus on the steel barriers continued to raise alarm bells in my head. This was not your average day at the embassy.
For a moment, I felt an air of invisibility but certainly not invincibility as police sirens echoed in the distance. I was under no illusion that diplomatic police would be kind and that is when the anxiety kicked in.
My gut feeling was right and within seconds, armed police swarmed us from every angle.
A lengthy exchange followed – who, what, where and why, presumably regarding the bomb threat message that the Metropolitan police clearly knew about.
As the stark reality of the barricade came into focus and our initial apprehension, it did not deter Drews protest, or my documentation, but little did we know, a. It was Impeccable timing, and I must give it to those responsible for that. This was sophisticated yet laughable email and we were blindsided.
The metropolitan police played right into CCP sympathisers hands, arrested us, and bundled us into separate vehicles. It was only during a 3-hour wait to see the sergeant that we had our last contact.
And so it began, my 24 hours in detention – with Drew’s stay being slightly less at 23 hours, albeit much more disjointed.
He was denied access to Lawyers despite them calling numerous times and being questioned without a solicitor present at 4AM.
Intimidation tactics were clearly at play in our Charing Cross cells but if anything, it shows an egregious lack of understanding from the Met over how the CCP and its legion of online agitators operate. There was no need for such a prolonged detention, soon to become a costly investigation into a blatantly dead-in-the-water case. It is not as though Drew had not made himself known at the Wimbledon final.
Diplomatic immunity will keep the embassy staff free from any future charges if they are found responsible, but for Drew and myself, we are not safe.
Would I seriously put my career at risk? Would Drew put it all on the line for shoddy hoax email? I do not think so, and the home office, as well as the Met and the diplomatic police need to take a long hard look at who the real criminals are in this situation.
This sets a dangerous precedent that Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and Australians like Drew have been combatting for years. We dismiss it in the UK insofar as justifying our economic relationship as the glue that keeps us cooperating.
Chinese state influence, be it direct or indirect is going to have an enormous impact on our justice system, politics, and media – if there was a time to get clued up, it would be now.
Outgoing PM, Boris Johnson, said at a NATO conference in late June “that there are areas in which we need to compete, contest and sometimes challenge what China is up to”.
We have our casus belli to begin challenging the tidal wave of CCP influence that is coming our way, but the current government silence on anything but the leadership contest means this could well be brushed under the rug.
The two of us face a long road ahead in legal terms but both our plights aside – the investigations and its conclusion will set the tone for how the British state deal with CCP influence going forward.
The metropolitan police are going to play a large part in that overall response strategy – if there ever is one that is not an empty set of promises.
So, my advice to the Met?
Forewarned is forearmed, and you were certainly armed, just make sure you know your target better.