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China Human Rights Activist Harry Wu Dies

FILE - Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., right, listens as he and human rights activist Harry Wu, left, criticize the one-child rule in China, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2011.

Longtime Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner, Harry Wu, has died at age 79.

Wu died Tuesday while on vacation in Honduras, according to the Laogai Research Foundation. No cause of death was given.

At age 23, Wu was sentenced to 19 years in the Chinese prison camp system, known as laogai, for criticizing the Soviet Union, a then ally of China.

During his life, Wu claims to have spent time in 12 Chinese labor camps, where he experienced harsh work and torture among other abuses.

He was released in 1979 and moved to the United States in 1985 where he worked to raise awareness about the Chinese prison system, founding the Washington, D.C.-based Laogai Research Foundation.

In 1995, Wu was arrested during a visit to China on charges of espionage in response to his human rights work. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a speedy trial, but was ultimately deported to the United States where he continued his work, writing several books and creating the Laogai Museum, devoted to preserving the memories of the laogai's many victims.

China has since carried out some penal reforms, including eliminating laogai, but some elements of penal labor remain in the Chinese system.