Martin Lee's arrest confirms that Beijing has crossed the tyranny border

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On November 24, 2019, after months of protests, three million Hong Kong democratic candidates presented a historic victory in the local elections. As part of an international team of election observers, we were there to watch the 326-seat landslide, in which only 62 seats were filled by pro-Beijing candidates.

This would always bring an answer from the Chinese Communist Party's Central Politburo.

This answer came on April 18. In the guise of a global pandemic, the CCP made its response, gathering 15 leaders of the democracy movement and arresting them. Among them was a Catholic lawyer named Martin Lee.

Lee is a former member of the Legislative Council, the Hong Kong Parliament and founding chair of the Democratic Party, the region's largest democracy-friendly party. He was born in 1938 and spent his formative years looking out over the bamboo wall that separates Hong Kong from China.

Young Lee grew up hearing extraordinary beliefs from the lips of Christians who had fled to the Macao and Hong Kong oases from communist oppression. Martin was a student when Ignatius Kung was appointed Bishop of Shanghai in 1949, just a few days before the Communists took power. In 1956, Kung was arrested along with more than 300 Catholic priests, religious and lay people. They refused to surrender and were taken to the Shanghai Greyhound Stadium, where daily show trials and executions took place.

To give up his belief, Kung spoke into the microphone: "Long live Christ the King, long live the Pope." Many shouted back: "Long live Christ the King, long live Bishop Kung." Kung spent 30 years in communist prisons for refusing to control the Catholic Church. His arrest and detention have not broken him, and his testimony has encouraged others.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao hunted and murdered millions of his countrymen, many for their beliefs. Churches were desecrated, looted and turned into storage rooms and factories. Priests and religious were imprisoned, tortured, some burned alive, some sent to labor camps, with Christians being led publicly through towns and cities and forced to wear cylindrical hats announcing their crimes of faith.

Mao's "big leap forward" led to the death of at least 30 million Chinese. Its "re-education programs", the destruction of the Red Guard and the infamies of the Cultural Revolution claimed an estimated 20 million lives. Mao rests in a colossal mausoleum in the center of Tiananmen Square, where thousands of people seeking democracy were mowed down in 1989.

Lee was shaped and shaped by these events. He has witnessed the ideology that makes the party a god and knows how effortlessly it rejects humanity to achieve its goals.

Martin Lee from Badiucao

Lee also has a close friendship with Cardinal Joseph Zen. Their relationship is reminiscent of the connection between Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa – two other figures that were forged in the burning fire. Like Lee, Zen is persecuted by the CCP. We tried some of that last year in Fatima, where we were with Lee and Zen. Chinese government officials chased them into the tiny Portuguese village, tried to end the meeting they attended, and rented a floor of one of the pilgrim hotels to spy on them.

It reminds us that every generation of the Church has prophetic witnesses who oppose tyranny. And in every generation there will be an authoritarian regime to which the church must respond.

It is not always easy to give this answer. Prophets tend to walk a narrow and lonely path. They can make us uncomfortable – and may not always be correct. On the other hand, the institutional church must take into account the broader permutations of its political decisions, which so often require balancing evil against one another.

In this sense there is always a tension between the institutional and the prophetic church. The temptation to amuse a dictator for fear of something worse has been a constant feature of our ecclesiastical history. Eastern policy can often seem so reasonable. But there is always a turning point at which "dialogue" and "commitment" become betrayal and a breach of duty. If the tortured Falun Gong practitioners, detained Christian pastors, or the one million Uyghur Muslims currently in camps in Eastern Turkistan could speak to us, they would say that the turning point in China has long passed. Lee would say the same thing.

But explaining this turning point takes courage. Recall that the courageous Bishop of Galen, the "Lion of Munster," condemned National Socialism in the 1930s, while others housed the empire and insisted that animal thinking was the wiser approach. Lee and Zen are with von Galen. They stand next to the Polish blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, who was murdered by communists in 1984 and declared that "truth that does not cost is a lie"; with St. Maximilian Kolbe "No one in the world can change the truth"; with the Blessed Titus Brandsma "Whoever wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it." You stand next to Ignatius Kung; with Christians tortured and murdered in China; with the imprisoned underground priests and bishops like Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, who languished in prison for 20 years.

As is so often the case, it is the prophetic voice of the Church that is called to suffer in time – and is so often proven to be correct.

When arrested, Lee – a lifelong advocate of peaceful resistance – reaffirmed his belief in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. With openness and characteristic humility, without self-pity, he said: “I feel relieved. After watching months of teenagers being arrested and prosecuted, I finally felt guilty. I was eventually prosecuted and have no regrets. I am proud to be on the path of democracy. “His words are reminiscent of his patron St. Thomas More – both were called to the bar at the Lincoln’s Inn. In Utopia, More reminds us that the political leader is called “to feed his sheep, not himself”, and also reminds us that even in Utopia, “there is never a dearth of terrible creatures that hunt people, snatch their food or devour entire populations. “These words could have been written for the Chinese Communist Party.

Martin Lee's arrest marks a threshold. As a prominent lawyer – a lawyer for the Queen and recipient of prestigious international awards – he was one of the authors of the Hong Kong constitutional system, Two Systems One Country. Arresting him on fabricated accusations is a symbolic imprisonment of the rule of law itself. In words prayed by so many of the Church's resistance fighters, Isaiah prophesied, "I will not be silent for the sake of Jerusalem." We don't have to either.

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