Activist loses appeal over Tiananmen massacre sign

Rex Martinich |

After losing his appeal Drew Pavlou said he would would investigate going to the Supreme Court.
After losing his appeal Drew Pavlou said he would would investigate going to the Supreme Court.

An activist’s freedom of speech was not restricted after his display of placards about the Tiananmen Square massacre near a Chinese consulate resulted in a fine, a judge has found. 

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 appealed after he 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 2023 with no conviction recorded.

Brisbane District Court Judge Paul Smith handed down his judgment on Thursday dismissing the appeal after finding the council’s laws were “reasonable and proportionate”.

“I think the real issue here is whether the placard was communicating ‘advertising matter’,” Judge Smith said.

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

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 Communist government’s efforts to censor discussion of the massacre.

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 appeal had argued that Pavlou’s handwritten sign did not constitute advertising matter and therefore could be displayed without requiring prior consent.

Pavlou submitted that his activity should also be protected by the Queensland Human Rights Act as he was engaged in a protest near the Chinese consulate.

The council stated its laws on advertising were important for crowd control.

Judge Smith said it was his opinion that advertising matter could include bringing a matter to public attention.

“The laws did not prevent free speech. They simply required a consent, easily obtainable, to exercise it,” Judge Smith said.

Following the judgment, Pavlou said outside court he was disappointed in the result and would investigate a Supreme Court appeal with his barrister.

“Including the council’s legal costs, I now face a total fine of $10,000 simply for peacefully holding a sign outside the Brisbane Chinese Consulate … This is just not fair and it’s not the Australia I believe in,” Pavlou said.