Champion of Human Rights in China Leaves a Tarnished Legacy
Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps, was a familiar figure on Capitol Hill, delivering searing broadsides against China’s authoritarian government that drew admiration from American politicians condemning the country’s human rights abuses.
His close relationship with lawmakers helped Mr. Wu secure a $17 million grant from Yahoo in 2007 to aid families of persecuted dissidents, when the tech giant was facing withering criticism for assisting the Chinese authorities in identifying activists who had used the company’s email service.
But by the time Mr. Wu, 79, died in April, his legacy had become tarnished. He provided just $1.2 million to dissidents’ families, while spending more than $13 million of the Yahoo money to operate his own foundation, which runs a website and a small museum, according to financial disclosures, court documents and interviews with former employees, foundation board members and human rights advocates.
“American politicians think of Harry Wu as a hero, but the truth is he is an immoral person who betrayed the very people he was supposed to be helping,” said Wang Jing, 47, the wife of a dissident.
In a letter released days after his death, seven prominent dissidents in China called on American officials to investigate what they described as spending irregularities by the organization, the Laogai Research Foundation, and announced plans to file a lawsuit seeking that the roughly $3 million that remained from Yahoo’s original grant be given to another group. Human rights advocates have been especially critical of Yahoo, whose executives sat on the foundation board until earlier this year but largely stood by as Mr. Wu overrode objections that he was inappropriately using the fund to buy real estate, run his museum and defend himself against lawsuits, according to board members and former employees.