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Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu dies

April 27, 2016

A prominent activist and former Chinese political prisoner, Harry Wu, has died at age 79. Wu's most prominent work was on raising awareness about China's laogai system of forced labor prison centers.

Menschenrechtsaktivist Harry Wu
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan

A statement from the Laogai Research Foundation on Tuesday announced the passing of its founder, Harry Wu. According to the foundation, the 79-year-old Wu was vacationing with friends in Honduras when he passed away. The cause of his death is unclear.

Wu's work focused on collecting information and raising awareness on China's laogai forced labor prison camps which were started under the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao. Although the camps were officially abolished by Beijing in 2013, harsh prison camps still feature prominently in China's prison system.

As a college student, Wu was sentenced to 19 years in a laogai camp for statements against one of China's allies, the Soviet Union. A few years after his release in 1979, Wu made his way to the United States. He became well-known in Washington, D.C. for his work and campaigned on a number of other Chinese human rights issues, including the country's population control measures.

While on a research trip to China in 1995, Wu was arrested and faced espionage charges for which he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Negotiations on his behalf by US officials led to his deportation to the United States.

In addition to writing several books, Wu founded the Laogai Museum in Washington.

mz/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)