Wu died yesterday at the age of 79, while traveling in Honduras. He was a founding member of HRF’s International Council.
“With Harry’s passing we have lost an intellectual and moral giant,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Like Solzhenitsyn before him, Wu documented gulags that dictators tried to hide. He forced the Chinese regime’s crimes into the light of day, and has been an inspiration for human rights activists around the world. In his memory, HRF will continue to promote human rights in the world’s most populous dictatorship," he added.
Wu was born in Shanghai, and was a 23-year-old university student in 1960 when he was imprisoned for dissent and sent to the laogai - a vast system of jails and detention centers where government critics are forced to submit to the Chinese Communist Party’s political indoctrination. Wu spent the next 19 years in these hellish camps, enduring hard physical labor, prolonged solitary confinement, beatings, torture, and near starvation. He witnessed the brutal deaths of countless fellow prisoners, and was regularly forced to “confess” to his crimes of conscience.
Wu was finally released in 1979 and taught for several years at a Chinese university before emigrating to the U.S. in 1985. Five years later he testified about his experiences before the U.S. Senate, beginning his decades long investigation into the laogai system, where millions of people have perished. In 1992 he founded the Laogai Research Foundation and began to work full-time to document the Chinese regime’s many human rights violations.
On a research visit to China in 1995, he was arrested, tried, and convicted for “spreading state secrets” and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Thanks to an international movement for his release, he managed to get deported back to the U.S., where he continued to campaign against China’s gulags, executions, forced organ harvesting, population control, and persecution of religious and labor leaders.
In 2011 Wu opened the Laogai Museum in the Dupont Circle area of Washington D.C., which acts as a monument and an educational center to inform the world about China’s human rights violations. According to the Museum’s website it “preserves the memory of the Laogai’s victims and raises awareness about the ongoing abuses of the Chinese Communist Party against its own people."
Wu was the author of several books about human rights in China, including “Bitter Winds” and “Troublemaker". He received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the Freedom Award from the Hungarian Freedom Fighters’ Federation, and the Medal of Freedom from the Dutch World War II Resistance Foundation. He spoke at HRF’s inaugural Oslo Freedom Forum in 2009, and today is survived by his former wife China Lee and son Harrison.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates Garry Kasparov, George Ayittey, Palden Gyatso, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, and Elie Wiesel.