Another fine mess: UQ student who battled lawsuit now faces fine for ‘free speech’

An activist is appealing a fine for illegal political advertising by displaying placards about the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Apr 05, 2024, updated Apr 05, 2024
Drew Pavlou (ABC image).

Drew Pavlou (ABC image).

Drew Pavlou was found guilty in a Brisbane court of failing to obtain consent for a regulated activity and not complying with a direction to cease from an authorised person.

Pavlou was fined $1000 plus $2000 for the Brisbane City Council’s costs and just under $114 for court costs by magistrate Michael Holohan in October.

His appeal against the fine due to be heard in the Brisbane District Court on Friday was adjourned until May as material had not been filed.

Pavlou set up a table and placards near the entrance to the Queen Street Mall and Chinese consulate in Brisbane’s city centre in May 2022, the Brisbane Magistrates Court trial heard.

He displayed signs saying “Nothing happened on June 4, 1989, change my mind,” referring to the date when China’s military violently ended a protest, and its government’s efforts to censor discussion of the massacre.

Pavlou appeared to be creating his own version of an internet meme that featured a right-wing US commentator challenging university students to a debate.

Pavlou was issued an infringement notice after failing to comply with a Brisbane City Council officer’s instructions to “pack up” the placards as they constituted unauthorised advertising in the mall.

The university student had been communicating his view of the Chinese Communist Party via his freedom of expression under Queensland’s Human Rights Act, Pavlou’s lawyer Anthony Morris KC argued.

Mr Holohan said the council’s laws fit the Human Rights Act’s definition of a reasonable and justifiable exemption.

“To define otherwise would allow persons to communicate political and other messages, except where they have a commercial aspect, throughout the mall without restriction,” he said.

No conviction was recorded after the court heard it would affect Pavlou’s plans to become a lawyer.

Pavlou said he was appealing the fine as it was unfair that holding a blank sign on Brisbane City Council land was subject to a “massive fine”.

“I’m sure that we’ll win … (and) it’ll be a great victory for free speech,” he told AAP outside court.

“The Queensland Human Rights Act which makes very strong protections for freedom of speech, we think that that should protect the act of holding a blank sign.”

Pavlou’s appeal hearing is listed for May 17.

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