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AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

The U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Seeking truth after the Capitol chaos

How colorful conversations can remind us what’s important

I called my Uncle Courtney the night of Jan. 8. We hadn’t talked since July and besides catching up, I wanted to hear his take on the events in Washington the day before.  We sit on different ends of the spectrum—he leans left, while I am a conservative. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched the news unfold, but I imagined Courtney’s reaction to be one of anger. 

A big cup of coffee at my side (he is a talker), I dialed his number. He answered and I readied my notebook and pen—he is always good for some Southern gems, and just in case I ever need a colloquialism for a colorful character in something I’m writing, I try to jot down the best turns of phrase. Courtney didn’t let me down, calling his two brothers “Whiskypalians” right off the bat for their allegiance to Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

I asked what he’d been doing that day, how he came to hear about the chaos interrupting what ought to have been an orderly counting of Electoral College votes. He’d been home with COVID-19 and was awaiting a hip replacement—the perfect conditions for having nothing to do but watch the feed from the House Chamber. The president’s speech had cycled through the major news channels earlier that day, and Courtney told me Trump “knew when he fired ’em up and sent ’em off” that something like this would happen.

I never thought I’d align so closely with Courtney in his criticism of Trump. I’ve listened to clips from the president’s rally on the day of the chaos at the Capitol, and I agree with my uncle—yes, Trump fired them up and then slipped off to see the results.  

The wound in Washington has been poorly treated, as though it were not serious. Some of my left-leaning relatives imagine a Biden administration will cure what ails us. They cry, “peace, peace,” but they are not ashamed of the left’s loathsome actions on abortion. The right seems to desire power above all else, and no one is telling the whole truth. 

My prayer for our nation is that we would heed the words of Jeremiah 5:1: “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.” We must be men and women who do justice and seek truth. We must elevate only those leaders who live by these standards.

After an hour of talking Trump and political intrigue, I managed to squeeze in a thank you for the laser-tag game Courtney had sent our boys for Christmas. “Your great-grandmother, Mama May, well, she always gave us something awful like rabbit-fur gloves,” implying his desire to give better gifts. I jotted down that family story in my notebook, too, glad I’d called my uncle. Glad we’d talked about things that mattered.

Julie Spencer is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.

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Benny Tai, center, one of the main organizers of last July’s election primaries, sits in a car after being arrested by police in Hong Kong on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Apple Daily)

Clampdown on democracy

Last week’s mass arrest of political activists signals the Hong Kong regime’s attempt to snuff out opposition

Last week, authorities in Hong Kong arrested 55 people in the largest crackdown on pro-democracy activists since Beijing imposed a new national security law on the region over the summer. Hong Kong police arrested organizers and candidates involved in the pro-democracy camp’s election primaries last July, accusing them of subversion.  

The mass arrests, beginning last Wednesday, signal the Chinese regime’s attempt to snuff out pro-democratic forces in Hong Kong. In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the arrests an “outrage” and threatened sanctions against the officials involved.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is finding less room for resistance against the regime. Authorities are casting a wide net for dissidents: Last week’s round-up included both prominent politicians and candidates running for office for the first time. Moreover, a digital clampdown on the city has begun, as police seized devices from arrestees for data collection and officials blocked access to an anti-government website, reported The Washington Post.

Around 1,000 police officers were involved in last week’s arrests. They searched dozens of locations—including a public opinion research center that set up a website and app for the July primary election—and asked three pro-democracy media outlets to hand over information regarding the election. Police also froze $206,000 in funds connected with the primaries. 

The primaries, which were unofficial and not endorsed by the government, were for the legislative election originally scheduled for September 2020. Pro-democracy candidates ran with the goal of claiming a majority in the 70-seat Hong Kong legislature that is now dominated by Beijing loyalists. Some participants had vowed, if elected, to veto the government’s annual budget, which would force Carrie Lam out from her position as chief executive. Over 600,000 citizens voted in the July primaries. 

Authorities called the activists’ plan to veto the budget and oust Lam an act of subversion. Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said the arrestees aimed to “paralyze” the government and plunge Hong Kong into an “abyss.” (The mass arrests also included those who did not agree to vetoing the budget.)

Under the national security law that criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign collusion, offenders could face up to life in prison.

In July, Lam postponed the legislative election by one year, claiming pandemic concerns. The current legislature is devoid of pro-democracy members, as Beijing disqualified opposition lawmakers in November, triggering mass resignations in protest.   

Among those arrested last week: former lawmakers, incumbent district councilors, and an American lawyer. Benny Tai, an organizer of the primaries and co-organizer of the 2014 Occupy Central protests, was also arrested. Activist Joshua Wong, currently serving a 13½-month prison sentence for unlawful assembly, was transferred to a detention center for questioning.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state was among those condemning the arrests last Wednesday. “The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights,” tweeted Antony Blinken. “The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.”

By last Thursday evening, all arrestees had been released on bail, except for three, including Joshua Wong, who remain detained for other violations. One arrestee, former lawmaker Helena Wong, told media that authorities were trying to intimidate the Hong Kong people and discourage pro-democracy candidates from running in the upcoming legislative election, scheduled for September.

Referring to the political suppression, Benny Tai told media on Thursday, “Hong Kong has entered a chilly winter. The wind is blowing strong and cold, but I believe there are still many Hong Kongers who will use their own ways to continue walking against the wind.” 

Members of the Democratic Party, the city’s largest opposition party, said at a press conference on Friday they remain committed to the pro-democracy ideology, but haven’t yet laid out plans for next moves. 

Several Hong Kong activists, exiled in the United Kingdom, have called on foreign governments to halt investment deals with China and sanction officials responsible for the arrests. In a Washington Post op-ed, Nathan Law, an exiled former lawmaker, urged the international community to take a more proactive stance against the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party: “Constraining the CCP’s expansion should be a priority of all of the free world.”

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Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

Roy Chan outside Good Neighbor North District Church in Hong Kong in January 2020. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

For one Hong Kong pastor, frozen bank accounts

Authorities freeze accounts of a Hong Kong church and its pastor in apparent political retaliation

Earlier this month, the global bank HSBC froze the bank account of Good Neighbor North District Church, a Hong Kong church known for political activism, along with the accounts of the church’s pastor, Roy Chan, and his wife.

The Dec. 7 banking freezes, requested by Hong Kong police, are viewed by many as politically motivated. Pastor Chan is the founder of Protect the Children, a group that aided demonstrators during Hong Kong’s recently suppressed pro-democracy protests. Volunteers from the church were often on the front lines and sought to mediate between protesters and riot police.

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