'Horrific torture': Mum finds shocking note in Kmart package

Olivia Lambert
·News Editor
·4-min read

A mum who ordered a box of Halloween decorations from Kmart discovered a disturbing letter inside from a prisoner at a Chinese labour camp.

Julie Keith, from the US state of Oregon, found the letter written by a man named Sun Yi more than 11,000 kilometres away, in a desperate attempt to relieve prisoners of torturous conditions and forced labour.

"If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Rights Organisation," Mr Sun wrote.

"Thousands [of] people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.

"People who work here have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays, otherwise they will suffer torture and torment - including beatings and rude remarks."

A letter written by Sun Yi from the Masanjia re-education camp.
The letter was a cry for help from Sun Yi after he was subjected to forced labour. Source: CNN

He added they were paid just $2 a month for the hard work to make products like the decorations Ms Keith ordered.

Mr Sun, who was sent to the Masanjia camp in 2008 for practising the meditation philosophy Falun Gong, also wrote in the letter that innocent people were being punished just for having a different belief to the Chinese Communist Party Government.

After originally thinking it was a hoax, Ms Keith then contacted human rights organisations and local media.

"I knew about labour camps in China but it slammed me in the face," she told CNN.

China labour camps 'very gruesome places'

While Ms Keith found the letter in 2012, the story behind it is being told in a new book – Made in China – by journalist Amelia Pang to shine a spotlight on the conditions in forced labour camps.

Pang told National Public Radio several of the political prisoners went through brainwashing classes and were punished if they did not renounce their religion, ethnicity or political beliefs.

"These are very gruesome places," she said.

"They were originally based off Soviet gulags, so the torture is pretty horrific."

Pang told the New York Post there were other similar letters that had arrived in the US, but Mr Sun's was one of the more "eye-catching".

Julie Keith speaks on camera in front of her home.
Julie Keith found the letter in 2012. Source: CNN

The publication reports Mr Sun was released from the Masanjia camp in 2012 before he discovered news stories about his letter and the woman who found it.

He tracked Ms Keith down and the pair met in 2017 after an email correspondence. Sadly Mr Sun died later that same year.

“He was the most resilient, strong person I have ever met. For someone to go through what he did and come out and be able to talk about it and share his experiences with the world — it’s just incredible," Ms Keith told the BBC in 2018.

Fears over Xinjiang labour camp

Made in China's book release comes amid fears surrounding the Xinjiang re-education camps.

Rights groups believe that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps in the western region of Xinjiang.

Witnesses and activists say China is seeking to forcibly integrate the Uyghurs into the majority Han culture by eradicating Islamic customs, including forcing Muslims to eat pork and drink alcohol, which are both forbidden by their faith.

Sun Yi writes something down while sitting behind a desk.
Sun Yi was released from the Masanjia labour camp in 2012. Source: Letter from Masanjia/YouTube

China denies wrongdoing and contends that its camps are vocational training centres meant to reduce the allure of Islamic extremism in the wake of attacks.

In September last year, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed in the US House of Representatives to block a range of Chinese products made by "forced labour" in the Xinjiang region, including from a "vocational" centre that it branded a "concentration camp" for Uighur minorities.

The items include cotton, garments, hair products and electronics from five specific manufacturers in Xinjiang as well as adjacent Anhui.

The bill however has been held up in the US Senate.

Pang said however people could be involved in a powerful push to urge China to rethink using forced labour.

“The next time you go shopping online, anywhere, take a moment to look at either the sustainability page or the Corporate Social Responsibility page,” Pang told the New York Post.

“We actually hold a lot of power to influence how businesses source from China."

with AFP

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