Courageous SOS letter-writer exposes the harsh truth of China’s forced labour camps

People in democratic countries enjoy the freedom of speech, belief, assembly and association. However, in a communist country like China, there is no such freedom. One can be jailed or even killed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for trying to exercise their basic fundamental rights.

China’s regime of repression, exploitation and genocide continues even to this day. Take for example Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is based on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. It was introduced in 1992 and became popular due to its moral values and health benefits.


By 1999, around 70-100 million people in mainland China were practising Falun Dafa. Fearing its growing popularity, the CCP launched a brutal campaign to eradicate this peaceful practice. As a result, many practitioners have been imprisoned, tortured physically and mentally, and have even been killed for their organs.

However, practitioners of Falun Gong have remained resilient to this day and quite a few heroes have managed to risk their lives and bring out the story to the world. Mr. Sun Yi, who was incarcerated for two and a half years in China’s infamous Masanjia forced-labour camp, is an example.

Life at the camp was indeed harsh as Sun Yi was made to work for 15 hours a day, seven days a week, while also subjected to torture and abuse. Mr. Sun was often handcuffed to a bed in agonizing positions for long periods. At one point, he was hung up from a bunk bed for an entire year, with the cuffs cutting into his wrists and his feet swelling to the size of an elephant’s, yet he never succumbed to demands to renounce Falun Gong.

To send an SOS message to the world, he’d write letters on his prison cot by the light of the moon, risking untold horrors if he were caught. One of the letters was found by Julie Keith from Oregon, United States when she was opening a Halloween kit she’d bought at K-Mart. 

Sun Yi’s letter goes like this: “Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Rights Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

After Keith publicized Sun’s letter, headlines drew worldwide attention to the gross rights violations within China’s “re-education through labor” system, consisting of over 300 camps where people could be held for up to four years without trial. Pressured, the regime announced that the system would be abolished by the end of 2013.

Mr. Sun subsequently became a target of the authorities. His home was repeatedly ransacked. He fled and lived on the run. In December 2016, he managed to escape to Indonesia. There, he met Julie Keith, and filming for part of the documentary “Letter From Masanjia” took place. 

The film tells Mr. Sun’s story while shedding light on how Chinese dissidents are arbitrarily imprisoned and then used as slave labor to produce goods for export. Mr. Sun planned to go to Canada from Indonesia, but while he was awaiting his visa, he was picked up by suspected agents of the Chinese regime. On Oct. 1, 2017, just days before his 51st birthday, he died at a hospital in Bali. His death was attributed to kidney failure.

However, his family reported that he didn’t have kidney problems, and said they suspected foul play. They claimed that the hospital didn’t give concrete details about his death and rushed to have his body cremated. Many wonder if his death was an assassination by poisoning.