By Lobsang Tenchoe
DHARAMSALA APRIL 28: Harry Wu, a Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner has died aged 79.
Wu was on vacation in Honduras when he passed away on Tuesday, according to reports from Laogai Research Foundation. But the cause of death still remains unknown.
He was a strong backer of other political prisoners and activists denounced by Beijing, including the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving a prison sentence in China for advocating political reforms.
Born into a well off family in Shanghai, Wu was given life sentence at the age of 23 for his criticism on the Soviet Union and subsequently sent to labor camps (Chinese: laogai).
As a result of political changes following the death of Mao Zedong, after spending 19 years in prison in 12 different labor camps during which he fought starvation, endured torture and harsh work regimes, Wu was finally released in 1979 at the age of 42.
Wu moved to the United States in 1985 and founded the Laogai Research Foundation in 2008 to spread awareness about the plight of Chinese prison system.
Having become a US citizen, Wu frequently visited China to conduct research on the labor camp system. During one of his visits in 1995, he was arrested on charges of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, after 66 days in detention he was deported to the US due to mounting international campaign demanding his release.
Wu continued his work, wrote several books such as “The Chinese Gulag,” ”Bitter Winds,” and “Troublemaker” and created the Laogai Museum, devoted to preserving memories of the victims of China’s laogai system.