Drew Pavlou, an Australian known for his peaceful demonstrations in support of Tibet, Taiwan and the Uyghurs, was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers outside the Chinese embassy on Thursday. He claims he was held in custody for 23 hours without access to his lawyer.
He had been trying to glue his hand to the Chinese embassy in Marylebone but is now under investigation over a fake bomb threat email that was sent to the embassy, an offence punishable by up to seven years in jail.
“The whole thing is a complete stitch-up,” Mr Pavlou told The Independent. “It’s like they knew I was coming, they laid a trap and I walked right into it.”
Mr Pavlou said he had planned to stage a quick protest at the embassy on Thursday, accompanied by some friends who were taking pictures and videos, with the stunt originally scheduled to take place between 11am and 12pm.
In the morning, he decided to push the protest back to between 2pm and 3pm. The Chinese embassy apparently reported the receipt of an emailed bomb threat to the Met Police at around 10.30am, with the message coming from the address firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This email they’re accusing me of having used, I’ve never used in my life,” Mr Pavlou said. “I’ve never even seen it in my life and the first time I saw that email was at 4am during my police interrogation, when I was exhausted.
“In broad terms it said: ‘This is Drew Pavlou. I have been fighting against the New Nazis, the Chinese Communist Party regime, I am fighting along side my Uyghur brothers and sisters. You have until 12pm to stop the Uyghur genocide’ – or something absolutely insane – ‘or I will blow up the embassy with a bomb, regards Drew.’
“They didn’t even go to any effort to make it look like a real email. Who the hell signs a bomb threat in their own name and then turns up with a stick of glue and sticks their hand to the embassy?” Mr Pavlou said.
The human rights activist was name-checked by China’s foreign affairs spokesperson in August 2020 as someone “who has been pursuing an anti-China agenda out of political motivations”.
In 2021, his emails were hacked by pro-China activists, a breach which Mr Pavlou believes resulted in the Chinese authorities detaining the mother of an Australia-based Uyghur he had interviewed for a research project.
Other fake emails, also in Drew Pavlou’s name, have been sent out.
In one message, seen by The Independent, a Drew Pavlou address sent an email to his lawyer Michael Polak’s colleagues pretending to be from the Crown Prosecution Service.
It raised concerns about Mr Polak’s speech at the World Uyghur Congress and was signed “Yours sincerely, Crown Prosecution Service”.
Kevin Carrico, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Monash University, confirmed to Guardian Australia that he too had received emails from a gmail account pretending to be Mr Pavlou’s from as far back as 2020.
Since his arrest by the Met, Mr Pavlou has been subjected to a huge amount of trolling online from pro-China accounts, many of which were set up only this month.
He was sent voice-recorded death threats from a man with a British accent, who said: “The long arm of the party got you. Guess what, the party are coming for you.”
One of his friends, with whom he is staying in London, claims to have seen a girl with Asian appearance taking photos of their residence.
Mr Pavlou, who was in the UK to stage a protest at the Wimbledon men’s tennis final, believes that somebody knew he was planning to be at the Chinese embassy at about 11am on Thursday and planned the email in advance.
He is also shaken by the attitude of the Met Police. “I was actually really compliant with the police,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to be threatened with bomb threat charges. When they came over, I just thought I’d take my hand off the door – my protest was over. I was really shocked when I was arrested and handcuffed in a really painful stress position with my hands behind my back.”
“To be honest, it was actually a really badly organised protest. I didn’t know how to use the glue or how to get it out of the tube. My friend Harry and I had to Google it. I’m not a hardened protest radical. I did not imagine in any way that I would be held for nearly 24 hours, held incommunicado and not allowed to talk to lawyers.”
Bill Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, responded to news of Mr Pavlou’s arrest, saying: “What I don’t understand is why the Met Police didn’t just Google Drew Pavlou instead of holding him incommunicado for 24 hours. It’s a very bad precedent.
“To take the word of China, a hostile foreign power, at face value about a well-known human rights activist raises serious questions about the judgement of the Met.”
Mr Pavlou said: “I feel like they’ve breached my legal rights.”
While in custody, he said, he had asked to talk to his barrister, Michael Polak, and to contact the Australian High Commission but was unable to speak to either.
He said he was eventually able to talk to a lawyer after around 23 hours in custody, but by this point he was so exhausted that he had waived his right to a lawyer at 1am so he could read the bomb threat email he had been accused of writing.
He is now under bail and has been warned by police that he can’t go back to Australia.
His British friend, Harry Allen, who had been filming Mr Pavlou’s stunt, was also held by the police for around 24 hours and is being investigated on suspicion of also “communicating false information to make a bomb hoax”.
In a statement the Met Police said: “At around 16.30 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.
“Having been booked into custody, the man was offered legal advice and the duty solicitor was called at 22.22 on 21 July. This is recorded in the man’s custody record. The man was released from custody at 15.56 on 22 July. He has been bailed to return pending further enquiries.
“A second man, aged 22, was arrested. He has been bailed to return pending further enquiries.”
The Chinese embassy has been approached for comment.