Beijing civil rights lawyer Ni Yulan and her husband Dong Jiqin have been sentenced to jail by Beijing Xicheng District Court on April 10, 2012. Both were charged with “picking quarrels, provoking rouble and wilfully destroying private and public property”, with Ni Yulan additionally convicted of “fraud”. Ni Yulan was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison and Dong Jiqin to two years. Cheng Hai, the couple’s defendant lawyer, said that the couple appeal against the “unjust” verdict. The case has raised international attention and controversy, Amnesty International calling the sentence “unacceptable” and the European Union’s Beijing mission expressing its concern for Ni’s deteriorating health and demanding for her immediate release.
Defender of victims of forced evictions for more than a decade
Ni Yulan is a prominent housing activist who has defended the rights of unfair forced evictions for more than ten years. She started her career as a lawyer in 1986 in China Far East International Trading Corporation, eventually promoted to being the leading lawyer of the company. From the world of international trade agreements, she started a new career as a civil rights lawyer as she started to pay attention to the rights of victims of forced evictions. For years, Ni Yulan has defended the rights of people whose homes have been expropriated or who have not received just compensation.
In 2002,while filming the demolition of a house of a customer, police savagely beat her causing her to become disabled and not to be able to walk normally. She has been using wheelchair since the beating but has not given up the human rights work despite her lawyer’s licence being revoked by the government. She has continued to help petitioners and rights activists and helping them with legal procedures and petitioning.
In 2008, Ni was again prisoned after her active petitioning for the rights the families whose homes were destroyed to make way for hotels in the Olympic Games. Released in 2010, she and her husband found themselves homeless and said that the police prevented them to rent an apartment or living at a hotel. With nowhere to go, they lived in a donated tent in a public park in Beijing. The officials moved the couple to a hotel room afterwards because of heavy media attention, regularly cutting their electricity and running water.
An independent documentary by He Yang about Ni Yulan while living in a park in Beijing (in Chinese only):
In April 2011, Ni and her husband were arrested and accused by the Governemnt of failing to pay a bill of around 70 000 yuan. Another accusation against them is that they refused to record all the people who came to visit them in the hotel register. The arrest was done simultaneously in a nation-wide dissident crackdown on dissidents and rights activists when Beijing was cautious about the Arab Spring spreading to China.
Several other activists detained during trial
The trial against Ni and Dong was held with closed doors on November 29, 2011 for four and half hours. No verdict was given then, but the court decided to gather more evidence and gave its sentence in April 10, 2012. The courtroom was heavily guarded in November, with no witnesses allowed to enter the courtroom. According to a Twitter post by lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, only the couple’s daughter, Dong Xuan, was given a 10-minute stay in the courtroom. She told later that her mother’s physical health was so bad that she had to lay down on an ambulance bed for the hearing and had an oxygen mask on her face. Beijing rights activists Ye Jinghuan and Zhou Li among others were put under police surveillance. Many petitioners were taken to the closeby Xinjiekou Police Station for detention and hearings.
On the day of verdict, April 10, 2012, several people were gathered outside Beijing Xicheng District Court. More than 100 police officers were guarding the courthouse and no journalists or friends of the couple were let in. According to several Twitter users, the roads leading to court house were heavily guarded. The couple has been under arrest since April 2011. According to China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) blog, the defense lawyer of the couple, Mr Cheng Hai, told the CHRD activists that in February 2012, Mrs Ni had severe difficulties in delivering speech and could not stand up at all from the wheelchair.