Activist and advisor to Hong Kong Watch and the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Joey Siu, speaks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On the fight for democracy in Hong Kong:
“Over the years the people of Hong Kong have been trying hard to fight for democracy, we have been fighting for universal suffrage where we can really elect a leader of our city, but that attempt failed.”
We saw that the room for political discussion and expression has been shrinking under the oppression from the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government.”
On the extent of support for democracy in Hong Kong:
“On June 9, 2019, one million people took to the streets to protest against the extradition amendment bill. On June 15, 2019, two million Hong Kongers took to the streets.”
“Hong Kong is a very very very tiny place. We have only a 7.5 million population and 2 million is nearly one-third of our whole population. When one-third of your population is taking onto the streets marching, you would expect the government to hear the people’s demands. You would expect the government to respond to your demands but that did not happen In Hong Kong. What came was severe police brutality. What came was an all-around suppression from the government.”
On her personal experience of the frontline:
“I was 20 years old at that time and these protesters were only 15, 16. They were in middle schools, high schools, handing me their wills saying that they have to go on the front lines, they have to do something for Hong Kong.”
Good morning everyone. Thank you so much for attending our event and thank you to UN Watch and all the other co-organizers for hosting this very, incredibly, important and also meaningful event here in Geneva.
My name is Joey Siu. I’m an activist, the policy advisor to Hong Kong Watch, and also the policy advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. I was born in the United States and moved to Hong Kong when I was really young. I grew up in Hong Kong, I attended college there, and I also became an activist in Hong Kong. In late 2020 I had to flee Hong Kong under the increasing risk of political persecution. After that, I decided to go to the states and I settled down in Washington D.C.
Hong Kong has always been a very unique place no matter what it is to me personally or historically speaking. The city was once colonized by the UK and in 1984 under the witness of the international community, the agreement on the future of Hong Kong was signed between the UK government and the Chinese government which set the conditions for the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. The Joint Declaration came into force in 1985 and in the same year, it was registered by the two governments in the United Nations.
It was promised that a special administrative region would be established in Hong Kong and that our people in Hong Kong would be able to continue to self-govern with a high degree of autonomy while we maintain our existing governing and economic systems which are different and also separate from the systems in mainland China under the ‘one country two system’ framework. With Hong Kong being such a globalized international city with our very well-established judiciary system, with our protection provided to our basic human rights and freedoms, Hong Kong continued to flourish as an international financial center.
However, with that being said, I want you all to understand one thing. Hong Kong has never enjoyed an electoral democracy. We were never able to elect our leaders of the city. A considerable number of lawmakers were chosen by the Chinese government. The Chief Executive – leader of our city – is hand-picked by Chinese officials in Beijing instead of the people in Hong Kong.
Over the years the people of Hong Kong have been trying hard to fight for democracy, we have been fighting for universal suffrage where we can really elect a leader of our city, but that attempt failed. We saw that the room for political discussion and expression has been shrinking under the oppression from the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government but at that time at least there was still room for us to discuss. But then everything changed in 2019.
In early 2019 the Hong Kong government introduced the ‘figurative offender’s amendment bill on extradition’ with the aim of establishing a mechanism that will allow any Hong Kong resident or any individuals in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trials. That is a direct erosion of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary and all of our core values. Fearing that from happening Hong Kongers started taking to the streets.
On June 9, 2019, one million people took to the streets to protest against the extradition amendment bill. On June 15, 2019, two million Hong Kongers took to the streets.
We have to know that Hong Kong is a very very very tiny place. We have only a 7.5 million population and 2 million is nearly one-third of our whole population. When one-third of your population is taking onto the streets marching you would expect the government to hear the people’s demands. You would expect the government to respond to your demands but that did not happen In Hong Kong. What came was severe police brutality. What came was an all-around suppression from the government.
At that time I was in Hong Kong. I was an activist. I was organizing these protests, demonstrations, and rallies. Sometimes I would be in the protest, on the streets marching, protesting against the government. Sometimes I have to take on the duty to provide legal assistance and the police brutality was so brutal that every day we have Hong Kongers worrying about being beaten to death by the police.
I have seen protesters who were only 15, 16 at the time asking me “hey I know that you are one of the members of a student union in Hong Kong can I give you my phone number and also my personal information if anything happens to me, tell my parents that I was arrested, I was beaten by the police”. Some of them even handed me their wills.
I was 20 years old at that time and these protesters were only 15, 16. They were in middle schools, high schools, handing me their wills saying that they have to go on the front lines, they have to do something for Hong Kong and that was what happened in 2019.
At that time we thought it was bad enough because at that time we had over 10 thousand protesters that were arrested under ridiculous offenses including rioting and illegal assembly facing up to ten years imprisonment. We thought that was bad enough but then the Chinese government slapped us in the face.
On July 1, 2020, they introduced the National Security Law in Hong Kong.
Under the National Security Law any Hong Kong resident, any foreign individuals who are found to have violated the national security law under the names of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces could be facing up to life imprisonment in Hong Kong or mainland China.
I still remember very distinctly the night when the national security law came into force. At that time I was helping a dear friend of mine, Owen Chow, with his election campaign in the democratic primaries in Hong Kong. At that time we were very very very worried because we know that the law is so broad, so vague we did not know how exactly it is going to be executed in Hong Kong. The only thing we knew is that if we continue with our election campaign if we continue with our activism we have to be ready to face the consequences of being in prison for a lifetime or being extradited to China or going into exile.
We paused our campaign for a week and we took the whole week to think, reflect, and think about whether we are ready to face the consequences. After a week of very long discussions, we decided to go on.
Now you see me as an activist in exile. I left Hong Kong in late 2020 and not so long after I left Hong Kong Owen Chow himself was arrested by the national security bureau in Hong Kong for participating in the democratic primaries. For subversion under the national security law and alongside him, it was another 46 pro-democracy activists were also arrested. Most of them have been in jail since January 2021. It has been over a year.
What came with the mass arrests and arbitrary detention is the total crackdown and dismantling of civil society. In Hong Kong, we saw that civil society organizations including labor unions, student unions, and protest organizations were forcibly shut down. We saw that independent pro-democracy media, including Apple Daily, and Stand News, being forcibly shut down.
Journalists, activists, protesters, or even everyday Hong Kongers are forced to flee the city.
Hong Kong has completely changed but then seeing all of you here gathering showing solidarity, showing support to Hong Kong, East Turkestan, Tibet, to the other regions and communities who are also under oppression I feel very empowered and I’m looking forward to that with your support and solidarity, we will one day win the battle, win the struggle and bring the glory back to our communities and our people.