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Exhausted Wu Gets Hero's Homecoming

August 25, 1995|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — An exhausted Harry Wu held a joyful reunion with his wife and close supporters Thursday night and was hailed as a hero for exposing human rights abuses in his homeland.

"I believe you all know how happy I am now," his wife, Ching Lee Wu, told scores of reporters and photographers gathered at San Francisco International Airport shortly before Wu's arrival. "I want to thank all the people who helped with the rescue of my husband."

Wu went straight to his home in Milpitas, 40 miles southeast of San Francisco where he told reporters that he had been deprived of information during his imprisonment. "There was no music, no radio, no newspapers, and sometimes the Chinese officers said: 'America can do nothing.' "

Wu, a naturalized U.S. citizen, credited his new country with securing his release. "If I was not American, I don't think I could be out."

At the airport, dozens of supporters carrying signs that read "Welcome Home Harry" gathered to give him a hero's welcome.

"We're delighted he's been released, although we're concerned about his well-being," said Ken Moller, a member of the Free Harry Wu campaign.

Wu was immediately examined by the airport physician. "He looked to be doing OK," said airport spokesman David Wilson. "He declined a wheelchair and he walked off, but kind of slowly."

Ching Lee Wu said her husband's two months in jail had aggravated a back injury he suffered while working in a Chinese prison coal mine in the 1970s. Embassy officials told her Wu had not been tortured during his recent captivity, she added.

But one person close to the Wu family said it was a deeply emotional homecoming and it was obvious Wu had been through "an enormous ordeal."

Wu is suffering from the effects of round-the-clock interrogation designed to break him down and is emotionally exhausted, the friend said.

Wu, 58, was kicked out of China hours after he was convicted of spying and stealing state secrets. He was arrested in June after trying to illegally enter western China. On Wednesday he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he could be forced to serve if he ever goes back to China.

Now, as a national celebrity, Wu will be able to reach a much broader audience with his message that China has unfairly imprisoned millions of people in forced labor camps known as the laogai .

"I think no matter how people react about this, Harry [will] just keep doing what he thinks is good," Ching Lee Wu said. "He wanted to expose the laogai system--the Chinese prison system to teach the people and to ensure that the horror will not repeat."

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Before his capture, supporters likened Wu to Alexander Solzhenitsyn for his work in exposing the Chinese gulag. During his most recent imprisonment, some members of Congress urged that he be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In an interview earlier this year, Wu explained that he was driven to publicize China's human rights abuses even at great personal risk because of his guilt over surviving the labor camps, where so many others died or remain imprisoned.

"Millions of people in China today are experiencing my experience," he told The Times. "If I don't say something for them, who will?"

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