Meet Joey Siu, a Human Rights Foundation (HRF) Freedom Fellow and Hong Kong activist based in Washington, D.C.
Siu played a vital role in Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests, co-founding a student advocacy coalition and organizing city-wide demonstrations. After fleeing Hong Kong in 2020, Siu served as an advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and a policy advisor to Hong Kong Watch. Siu is currently an Asia Pacific coordinator for the World Liberty Congress, an advisor to the Athenai Institute, and oversees the Hong Kong program at the National Democratic Institute.
In exile, Siu remains a dedicated advocate for Hong Kongers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other communities oppressed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Learn more about her activism in the exclusive interview below.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current projects.
A: I am a human rights activist from Hong Kong (HK). Back in 2019, when the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong first started, I was one of the student leaders who led many of the on-campus activities and city-wide protests and demonstrations. In 2019, I also co-founded a student coalition with other student activists in HK to solidify international advocacy efforts for HK. I was forced to flee HK in late 2020 and settled in Washington, D.C. Since then, my efforts have been focused on international advocacy for HK’s democratic freedoms overseas.
I am establishing a regional activist network for women advocates to connect, amplify, and empower one another and to elevate women leaders in this space. Beyond that, I am very active in the HK diaspora community and working to foster cross-movement solidarity with other communities under the repression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Q: How do you feel about the bounty HK authorities placed on your head?
A: On Dec. 13, I woke up to the news that HK authorities issued an arrest warrant and a $1 million HK bounty on me. Ever since I fled, I knew this could happen given the Chinese and HK authorities’ efforts to silence dissent, not just from those in HK but from those in exile. But this bounty is like a death certification — I can really never go back. I was overwhelmed by the news and the actions I’ve had to take to step up my personal security.
I — and the 12 others with bounties on their heads — saw this coming. They issued the bounty to threaten us, to deter us from continuing our advocacy, to scare us, and to really intimidate us. But that will not work on me. I will not stop; I will continue my advocacy until I can return to HK.
Q: What tactics does the Chinese regime employ to suppress activists like yourself?
A: The overseas communities have lobbied for international attention on China and HK and all of the human rights atrocities committed by the CCP. That is why the CCP is trying so hard to silence us.
Over the past few years, the CCP and the HK authorities have stepped up their transnational repression. We’ve witnessed a wide variety of tactics employed by the CCP, from holding our loved ones back home as hostages to infiltrating our communities, setting up secret police stations all across the world, including in the United States, to coercing different stakeholders and industries to spy on their behalf.
These tactics have not been used just against Chinese and Hong Kongers but also against Uyghurs and Tibetans. And we’ve seen other authoritarian regimes copying the CCP’s tactics, including Russia, Iran, and Belarus. In fact, these regimes are working hand-in-hand to silence dissent overseas.
Q: Should democracies be paying more attention?
A: I want to stress that the impact of transnational repression extends beyond the activists. Beyond spying on dissidents overseas, tactics include economic coercion, brainwashing, and education through Confucius institutes in American universities and colleges. Those tactics impact every individual living in a democracy.
Democracies all across the world should pay attention to this and take concrete steps to combat transnational repression on their soil and in other democracies. Securing the safety and security of dissidents like me is an essential step to allowing us to have the freedom to continue speaking up and to continue confronting authoritarianism.
Q: How has the Freedom Fellowship supported you in your work?
A: The Fellowship allowed me to meet activists from communities I otherwise would not have been in touch with as actively or frequently. In my cohort, I met activists from Bolivia, Cuba, Myanmar, Morocco, Egypt, and more. I got to talk with them and learn the tactics they’ve used to overcome challenges and unite their communities. Fostering relationships and strategizing on campaigns together was the most valuable experience for me.
Building that cross-community solidarity is essential. We see dictators working together and it is of the utmost importance that we, human rights activists, are working together. Democratic backsliding is not an issue faced by one community alone; it is an issue faced by all communities under oppression.
Q: What have you recently been doing? What do you hope to achieve in 2024?
A: After the news about the HK bounty broke, I had several meetings with US congressional offices. I met with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman Mike Gallagher of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, and Sen. Jennifer Sullivan. Hopefully, these meetings will lead to legislation to combat transnational repression, but we require a coordinated and bipartisan effort in Congress. I hope to see something like the Transnational Repression Policy Act advanced and adopted in this Congress.
With the ongoing reports of the bounty on me and other activists, Jimmy Lai’s case, and the upcoming sentencing of the 47 activists in HK, we can hopefully take advantage of the momentum. We can push the US government and other democracies to take action.
Additionally, during the 2023 Freedom Fellowship retreat, I came up with the idea of the regional women’s network. In the upcoming months, I want to turn this idea into something concrete—start inviting people to be founding members and board members, start the registration process, and establish a financial foundation and fundraising plan.
The Freedom Fellowship is a unique, one-year program that gives human rights advocates, social entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders from challenging political environments the opportunity to increase the impact of their work. Through mentorship and hands-on training sessions, fellows develop critical skills and join a growing community of human rights activists.
If you’re interested in learning more about or donating to the Freedom Fellowship, we encourage you to contact Jhanisse Vaca-Daza at [email protected].