Harry Wu spent nineteen years in Chinese prison camps during the 1960s and 1970s. He was arrested and detained again for sixty-six days in 1995 at the Chinese border while on a fact-finding mission. He is executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation in Milpitas, California, and has held research positions at the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University. He has built a database of information on more than eleven hundred prisons and concentration camps of the Chinese gulag system, or “Laogai,” which literally means “reform through labor.” He is the author of two autobiographical books.
José Ramos-Horta was born in Dili, East Timor, in 1949. Of his eleven brothers and sisters, four were killed by the Indonesian military, which invaded East Timor in 1975, resulting in the death of more than two hundred thousand people. Ramos-Horta worked as a journalist from 1969 to 1974, during which his prominent role in the political resistance forced him into exile in Mozambique for two years. He again left East Timor in 1975 to spend the next twenty-four years fighting for human rights and Timorese independence from abroad. Ramos-Horta shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. An assassination attempt in 2008 left Ramos-Horta wounded by a gunshot.
Born in 1941, Oscar Arias Sanchez studied law and economics in his native Costa Rica, the United States, and England. He began his political career in 1970 in the left-wing National Liberation Party and was elected president of Costa Rica in 1986. He immediately set about working for peace in Central America, bringing the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua together for negotiations. Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his continuing efforts to foster democracy and peace among his war-torn neighbors. Since leaving office in 1990, he has continued his work through the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.
China’s most prominent dissident, Wei Jingsheng, has spent most of his adult life in prison. He was first sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment in 1979 for arguing in protests and in his essay “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy” that, in addition to Deng Xiaoping’s heralded reforms, China needed democracy. Enduring solitary confinement and unspeakable conditions, Wei was released in 1993 during China’s bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. Within eighteen months, after returning immediately to vocal protest, he was sentenced to another fourteen years. He was released three years later on medical parole. He now lives in the United States, hoping one day to return to China. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.