Champion for Human Rights, Harry Wu Served 19 Years in China’s Laogai [Prison Labor Camps]
By Ann Noonan
The first time I heard about Harry Wu was in the summer of 1995 when his arrest in China was covered in the news. At the time, I was an affiliate for a Catholic NGO, planning to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Instead, we had to wait for Harry’s release from China’s prison. If he wasn’t released, Hillary Clinton and the American Delegation, and American NGO’s could not attend the Conference. Once he was back in the USA, we were all relieved and went to Beijing.
While I was in China, I was able to confront first hand the religious oppressions of members of the Catholic faith who I met outside of the UN event. When I returned to New York and was on my way to a meeting at the International Catholic Organization Information Center, I met a group of Tibetans on a hunger strike on First Avenue.
These issues of religious persecution in China were nothing I could ignore.
Months later, I attended an event where Harry Wu was speaking. I was honored to meet him, and we stayed in touch. His book Troublemaker had just been published. I invited him to New York for a whirlwind tour. I arranged for Harry to speak at the Bronx High School of Science’s Kennedy Speaker’s Forum. Then we met with NY Mayor Giuliani, NYC Council Speaker Peter Vallone, New York Central Labor Council Secretary Ted Jacobsen, and the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. We also attended book-signing garden party that I had arranged in Riverdale and were joined by elected officials and dignitaries.
Harry Wu and Ann Noonan at the 1998 Salute to Democracy in China in New York City
Harry asked me to be his New York Coordinator, and I accepted. This title came with no compensation. I do this work in prayer. It’s not a job nor a profession. It’s a mission. I need to say this because if there are any people who have ever said that I was a paid employee for Harry’s organization, either during his life or after his suspicious death, they would be a liar.
During the years I worked with Harry, he had great confidence in my organizing and attending events with him and on his behalf, and writing about the topics and concerns of the Laogai Research Foundation. These included documenting Laogai products that are sold here in the US, the torture of Laogai prisoners, organ harvesting, internet surveillance, Liu Xiaobo, the brutal one-child policy, the plight of the Tibetans, the persecution of Uyghur Muslims, and the outcry for justice of the Tiananmen Mothers. It also included helping him to get the word Laogai into the Oxford English Dictionary
Wei Jingsheng, who has been called the “Father of Democracy,” speaks about the future of the Laogai Museum
When Wei Jingsheng was released from China and came to the United States, I was happy to help to facilitate his first meeting with Harry.
I am so proud of the work Harry did so that no one would ever forget those in China’s Laogai. Harry never made it about himself, but about those who were left behind or who died as victims of China’s oppressions.
Harry went from a voice in the wilderness to heading what became a permanent research facility.
Harry started first at a temporary office space, then to a rented building space, then finally to a building that the Laogai Research Foundation purchased and owned as the permanent repository and museum to display all of the victims’ names, stories, exhibits and archives of proof and evidence of the oppressive practice of the CCP of imprisoning people in their Laogai system.
Harry’s vision made this possible, by his outreach to politicians and leaders here in the US and abroad, his outreach to everyday citizens by appearances at lectures and by his televised appearances testifying in the US Congress.
Harry’s message inspired Human Rights advocates all over the world.
While Harry was often disappointed in the Catholic Church and its seeming ability to ignore the Roman Catholics in China, he still respected the Church’s social teachings. I remember attending the “Hands Off Cain” event with Harry at NYU’s School of Law, where Harry spoke about his strong opposition to the death penalty, both here and in China. I also recall him telling people to never give in to China’s one-child policy. I share his belief that women should be allowed to bear their children, and no woman should have her reproductive cycle monitored in the workplace or by the government.
When Harry received money from the Yahoo! settlement, it wasn’t his to use as he pleased. Let’s set the record straight. There were very strict requirements about how the money could be used. There were Yahoo! and other attorneys who regulated the distribution of this money. From the very beginning, before I was even on the Board, there were board members whose fiduciary responsibilities were to understand these restrictions.
The world’s only Laogai Museum in Washington, DC
If any board member had a problem with the way money was being allocated by LRF, including the purchase of the building, each one of them had a responsibility to attend quarterly board meetings, even by phone if unavailable in person, and challenge the way funds were being used. Years later, having been silent when these decisions were made, their belated complaints should be ignored.
I miss Harry.
I have contacted the Director of National Intelligence and made a FOIA request under Intelligence Community Directive 191 to be advised of any known threats to Harry Wu. To date, the US Intelligence Agency has not fully responded.
I believe his death needed to be investigated.
After Harry’s death, when board members refused to use the Yahoo! settlement money to continue operating the Museum, all of the staff were fired and the Museum doors were locked and all of the planned events were cancelled. The work with the Department of Homeland Security ended.
Recently, after being closed for almost two years, the doors were opened — sort of — but the Museum was not the same. Brand new research books published by LRF were found thrown in the garbage. Here’s one of them.
When Jing Zhang visited the Museum, she found out that her donated archives and exhibits were missing and no longer on display.
(L to R) Former Laogai Museum Director Diana Chang, former Laogai Research Foundation Board Member Ann Noonan, with Laogai survivors Jiazhen Qi and Jing Zhang
The unstated plans for the Laogai Museum appear to be that the current board members want to reduce the Museum to a YouTube online presence that will allow them to sell the Museum building.
Harry Wu’s Laogai Museum held the world’s only permanent exhibit of the oppression of the Tibetan people, of the Uyghur Muslims, and of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Does anyone here believe that the Laogai Museum should not stand on its own, and should instead be subsumed into the Victims of Communism Memorial? Wouldn’t it be equally unacceptable to see a Holocaust Museum be subsumed into a WWII Memorial?
The future of the Laogai Museum should be expanding, not closing. The staff should not have been fired. Books should not be thrown into the garbage. Exhibits and artifacts should be protected and preserved.
When I left the Board, there was still $5 million dollars of the Yahoo! settlement money in the bank to pay for the Laogai Museum costs and ongoing projects to continue for at least 5 years, even if no other money was raised. Contrary to any rumors you may have heard, there were no outstanding problems with the IRS. In fact, the IRS employee who audited LRF sent a lovely letter about Harry as soon as he heard about Harry’s death.
Does anyone here think that money should be spent on attorneys instead of exhibits and research?
It is a blessing to be here today with friends to remember Harry Wu. Friends like Diana, Jing, Mrs. Qi, and Zhang Lin. I trust you will continue to protect Harry’s legacy and help what he started so it will thrive.
Peter Müller at the 2016 Library of Congress Memorial Service for Harry Wu
I hope everyone here will help Harry’s European friends, especially Mr. Peter Müller who saved the Laogai.org website and its content from being deleted. Please help him to find a way to open a new Laogai Museum in Europe.
Last year in New York, a Mass was offered in loving memory of Harry Wu. In his homily, the priest compared Harry to the prophet Jeremiah. It was comforting to hear.
It’s 3 years since Harry Wu died, and I believe that he is resting in the arms of the Lord. He blessed many lives and opened many hearts, helping us to care about and to love our neighbor.
(These remarks were presented by Ann Noonan on April 27, 2019 at the Laogai Survivor’s Seminar and Commemoration of the Third Anniversary of the Death of Harry Wu. Ann Noonan is a former Board of Director for Harry Wu’s Laogai Research Foundation)
after his suspicious death, they would be a liar.