Life at the camp was indeed harsh. Inmates were forced to work 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.
Mr. Sun was released from Masanjia in mid-2010. Two years later, an American woman, Mrs. Julie Keith, found one of his letters in a Halloween kit she’d bought at K-Mart. His letter had traveled 5,600 miles from China to a small town in Oregon.
Mrs. Keith went to the media, and the story made headlines around the world. The subsequent publicity and international pressure over the gross rights violations in China’s vast “re-education through labor” system led to the system’s abolishment in 2013. (However, “black jails” have since sprung up to replace the labor camps.)
Mr. Sun, whose Chinese name means “firm and resolute,” subsequently became a target of the authorities. His home was repeatedly ransacked. He fled and lived on the run.
In December 2016, Mr. Sun 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.