People living in democratic, independent countries enjoy the basic freedoms of belief, speech, assembly and press. However, in the communist China, the innocent citizens can be imprisoned and even killed for trying to exercise these fundamental human rights. The award-winning documentary Letter from Masanjia, which highlights the dark secrets of the forced labour camp system in China, is yet another proof of how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. 

The documentary Letter from Masanjia is based on the desperate SOS note found in a box of Halloween decorations purchased by Julie Keith, a woman in Oregon, United States. The note was a plea for help by the late Sun Yi, a prisoner of conscience who was detained at the notorious Masanjia Forced Labor Camp, in Shenyang, China.

After Keith posted the letter on social media, a series of nail-biting events ensued that eventually exposed the ongoing persecution of the spiritual group of Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) in China and gave shocking insights into China’s infamous forced labour camps.

Sun, an engineer from Xi’an city, China, began practising Falun Dafa in 1997. However, when the peaceful meditation practice was unlawfully banned by the CCP in 1999, Sun, like countless other Falun Dafa adherents, began working to expose the suppression and to restore his fellow citizens’ freedom of belief. He had been jailed over a dozen times for this.

After the news of his SOS note spread across the world, Sun used the chance to further expose the brutality of the Chinese regime. He risked his life, yet again, while filming the harsh reality of being a human rights defender in China. Sun took video footage of his hard life in China, while under surveillance by the authorities, and interviewed other former Masanjia inmates. Along with his story, Sun shared his drawings depicting the abuse he suffered and witnessed at the labour camp.

Director Leon Lee became interested in the story of Sun, after the SOS note made international headlines. Lee first contacted Keith before sending a message through his personal network of activists and dissidents in China that he was looking for Sun. Three years later, Lee finally connected with Sun and they decided to team up together to make the documentary.

“This is the most difficult film I’ve made so far,” Lee told the audience after the screening in a Q&A session, reported Epoch Times. “Partly because I was unable to return to China due to the previous films I made and, on the other hand, Sun did not know how to use a camera, so we two had to pull this off mainly through Skype. But really it was his courage, his determination, that really made this film possible.”

“At the time of shooting, Sun himself was still in China. He was under great pressure and took great risks,” Lee said.

Director Leon Lee speaks to the audience after the screening of his film ‘Letter from Masanjia’ at ByTowne Cinema in Ottawa on Sept. 3, 2018. (Jonathan Ren/NTD Television)

According to The Epoch Times, in Dec. 2016, Sun successfully fled to Indonesia, and in March the following year, he met with Keith in Indonesia. But just days before his 51st birthday, on Oct. 1, Sun passed away under suspicious circumstances at a hospital in Bali, Indonesia.

Though the hospital said Sun died of kidney failure, his family said he never had kidney health problems. The family members are concerned about the possibility of foul play. They claimed that the hospital did not give concrete details about his death, rather the staff rushed to have his body cremated.

Late Mr. Sun Yi holding the SOS letter he wrote. (Courtesy Flying Cloud Productions)

“This movie is really heartbreaking,” said Paula Liu, an audience member who was moved by the film, reported Minghui.org. “More people should come and watch what China is really doing. I think many people should know this and help those being persecuted.”

Lee hopes more people can understand the story of the Chinese people by understanding Sun’s story. He said, “Because no matter what kind of background or belief you have, when you see the story of Sun, I think you will be touched by his courage.”

“The true Chinese spirit is what we see in Sun,” he added.

Selfless and fearless, people like the late Sun, Lee, and Keith are real-life heroes. Letter from Masanjia is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands who have been wrongfully persecuted in China and are imprisoned to this day.

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