British Columbia

Film director prepares to mark Tiananmen Square anniversary in B.C. after fleeing Hong Kong home

Award-winning Hong Kong filmmaker Jevons Au left his home for Canada last summer in fear of the Hong Kong national security law China imposed on the city in July 2020.

Jevons Au moved to Canada shortly after China imposed national security law in Hong Kong

Tens of thousands of people attend a vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2014, to commemorate the anniversary of the the Tiananmen Square massacre. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Award-winning Hong Kong filmmaker Jevons Au left his home for Canada last summer in fear of the national security law China imposed on the region in July 2020.

On Friday evening at 8 p.m. PT, Au will join dozens of other people from B.C.'s Lower Mainland at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to commemorate those who lost their lives in the military crackdown against democracy protesters in Beijing's Tianammen Square — a vigil, he says, he's been keeping since he was in Grade 2 when he first learned of the tragedy.

"We have to remember those who fight for the freedom or democracy for the Chinese people, and their sacrifice," said Au, who now lives in Surrey, B.C., near Vancouver.

"We should carry on every year until we really can get democracy for the Chinese people," he told CBC news.

China has never provided a full account of its violent crackdown. The official death toll is about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of Chinese citizens may have died.

China's national security law, covering secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, was imposed in Hong Kong in July 2020. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Commemorations of the event are banned in mainland China, but Hong Kong traditionally held the largest vigils globally each year, having been guaranteed certain freedoms, including free speech, when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

But the Hong Kong government has banned the Tiananmen vigil for the second straight year, citing COVID-19 restrictions and participants' potential violation of the sweeping national security legislation. 

Passed in China's National People's Congress, the law covers secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. A conviction carries a maximum sentences of life imprisonment.

WATCH | Jevons Au talks about the importance of solidarity in the fight for democracy in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong filmmaker says push for democracy must continue

4 months ago
Jevons Au, who fled Hong Kong last summer, tells CBC's Winston Szeto why he will attend the Tiananmen vigil at the Chinese consulate in Vancouver on Friday. 0:55

Au says he decided to leave Hong Kong with the encouragement of his Canadian wife on a visitor visa, because he had worked as the executive director of a short film streaming service funded by Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.

Lai is currently in jail for taking part in an unauthorized assembly in October 2019, and is being investigated under the national security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers to intervene in Hong Kong affairs.

Other Hong Kong activists, such as Joshua Wong, are facing additional jail time for participating in the banned Tiananmen vigil last June and are being charged with subversion.

"My wife [thought] that that's very dangerous out there," Au said. "Because I enjoy the freedom of speech [in Canada], I don't have to worry … even though I speak something and I make one mistake, I don't have to [be] put in jail."

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai arrived at Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal in a prison van in February. He is facing charges of colluding with foreign forces under the national security law. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Au received multiple Hong Kong film industry awards, including best picture for Ten Years — a grim depiction of a dystopian Hong Kong under Chinese rule — which was screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2016 but is being banned in China due to its politically sensitive content. 

In June 2019, he produced a half-hour docudrama where he explored why some in Hong Kong choose to forget the Tiananmen Square massacre — partly because they feel it's not their business to care about something that happened in mainland China.

Au calls for solidarity and asks people in Hong Kong to commemorate Tiananmen in a safe manner.

"All the [mainland] Chinese people and Hong Kong people are the victims," he said. "We are not enemies and we have to go together, because if we don't go together, it would be easier for the dictatorship to do whatever they want."

Jevons Au held a lighted candle in the Tiananmen vigil outside of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver Friday evening. (Submitted by Jevons Au)

Tap the link below to hear Jevons Au's interview on The Early Edition:

Jevons Au speaks with Stephen Quinn about reflecting on the 32 years since and the Chinese government's crackdown on remembrance. 6:13

With files from Associated Press, Reuters and Cathy Browne