After languishing 19 years in China’s forced labor camps, a Chinese dissident has set up a museum in Washington to highlight the “horrors and atrocities” in secret detention facilities.
Harry Wu (吳弘達), who labored in 12 different camps in China from 1960 to 1979, set up the museum in memory of the millions who he said perished within the camps, known as laogai or reform-through-labor camps.
Wu hopes it “will preserve the memory of the laogai’s many victims, including the millions who perished within the labor camps, and serve to educate the public about the horrors and atrocities committed by China’s communist regime,” a statement from his Laogai Research Foundation said.
“To this end, the museum will not only introduce the history and structure of the laogai, but will also tell the personal stories of many of its prisoners,” it said.
Materials on display at the museum, to open to the public on Thursday, include photographs, government documents and prisoner uniforms from Wu’s own archives or donated by other laogai survivors.
Wu set up his foundation in 1992, seven years after he fled to the US where he obtained citizenship.
The laogai camps were established under Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) after the communists came to power in China in 1949. They included both common criminals and political prisoners.
About 40 million to 50 million people have been imprisoned in the laogai, many of them prisoners of conscience, Wu’s group said.
In 1990, China abandoned the term laogai and labeled the detention facilities as “prisons” instead, but Wu maintained that evidence gathered by his foundation suggested that forced labor was “as much a part of its prison system today as it ever was.”
This includes so-called laojiao or reeducation through labor, a form of administrative rather than judicial detention, where dissidents, petty criminals and vagrants can be imprisoned for several years without a trial, Wu’s group said.
The laogai museum in Washington was set up with the support of a human rights fund established by Internet giant Yahoo, whose chief executive officer Jerry Yang (楊致遠) is slated to inaugurate the museum on Wednesday.
Yang set up the fund after his company came under fire from rights groups for allegedly helping Chinese police nab and jail cyber dissidents, including a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao (師濤), who is still behind bars.
Ahead of the museum’s opening, rights group Amnesty International accused Yang of not giving priority to pushing the Chinese authorities to release the journalist.
Shi Tao was convicted in 2005 of divulging state secrets after he posted a Chinese government order forbidding media groups from marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on the Internet.
Police identified him by using information provided by Yahoo. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
“That Shi Tao and others remain in prison after using Yahoo services, as your company remains silent in China, hollows your human rights fund and scholarship into seeming public relations attempts,” Amnesty’s USA executive director Larry Cox said in a letter to Yang.
“Your company’s response to the imprisonment of journalists and dissidents who have relied on your services must include a clear focus on their releases,” Cox said.
Yahoo had defended its action on the grounds that it had to comply with China’s laws in order to operate there.