Death of Harry Wu, the activist of Chinese human rights
Harry Wu, the Former political prisoner and survivor of Chinese labor camps died on 26 April at the age of 79.
Born in Shanghai, Harry Wu was just a student when he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 23 years and jailed on April 27, 1960 in forced labour prison camp of Laogai after he criticised the Soviet Union which were at that time an ally of China. The Laogai were the forced-labour camps in China. The term comes from the Chinese words lao, meaning labour and gai, meaning reform, hence the term “reform through labour”
Mr Wu spent 19 years inside 12 different camps, an experience he said “turned him into an animal, fighting over scraps of food so he would not starve like millions of others”. In 2011 Mr Wu confessed to the BBC that he intended to commit suicide twice, because he felt that death was better than life.
Following political upheavals consecutive at the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, he was released in 1979 after 19 years of imprisonment. After his release, he went to the United States to work in geology, but quickly turned into a human rights campaigner. That is why in 1991, he decided to return in China to film clandestinely the forced labour camp reality of the Chinese communist regime.
After this travel he founded in 1992 The Laogai Research Foundation in Washington DC. The foundation has for purpose to expose human rights violations in China’s prison system. He also successfully campaigned to introduce the term Laogai in the Oxford English Dictionary.
In 1994, Harry Wu was naturalized American. One year later he took the risk again to return in China, but this time, he was arrested at the Chinese border and he was kept in detention for 66 days and sentenced for spying to 15 years of imprisonment. He was finally expulse from China under the American pressure.
In November 2008, he inaugurated the Laogai museum at Washington. The museum explain the history and the structure of the Chinese prison system with pictures, officials papers and old prisoner uniforms from the personal archives of Harry Wu or from donations of former prisoners. This museum aims to commemorate the memory of thousands of victims of these camps and educate the public on the atrocities committed by the Chinese communist regime.
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