By Ma Latang
Land rights lawyer Ni Yulan (倪玉兰), who has now been permanently crippled from police torture, has been sentenced to jail by a court in Beijing along with her husband Dong Jiqin (董继勤).
Both were charged with “picking quarrels, provoking trouble and wilfully destroying private and public property”, with Ni Yulan herself additionally charged with fraud. Ni was sentenced two years and eight months behind bars, while her husband was given a two-year term.
Cheng Hai, the defendant lawyer, said the couple would appeal against the “unjust” verdict.
Ni’s daughter Dong Xuan (董璇) said her mother has had no access to medical help during her time in detention and might have got a neck tumor.
The European Union has expressed its concern over Ni’s health and called for her immediate release. Raphael Droszewski, from the European Union’s Beijing mission said the EU is “preoccupied with the deterioration of the situation for human rights defenders in China.”
Ni Yulan began taking up land rights cases when Beijing embarked on a major demolition and reconstruction exercise for the 2008 Olympics in 2001.
Many houses were demolished without fair compensation or negotiation, leading to a rash of legal disputes. Ni’s own residence was also on land that was waiting to be requisitioned.
On April 27, 2002, Ni was sentenced to one year in jail for “interfering with public administration” and “inflicting physical hurt on law enforcers” after taking photos on a forced demolition site. Ni said her left leg was beaten to such an extent during that episode that she never recovered motor skills in the limb subsequently.
In the same year, Ni’s lawyer license was revoked, but that did not stop her from continuing to receive petitioners and rights activists and helping them with legal procedures and petitioning.
She also started petitioning the Communist Party Central Committee, the National People’s Congress and the State Council, hoping to punish those accountable for her disability.
In April 2008, a group of men stomped into Ni’s house and forcibly dragged her out before her house was demolished.
While Ni was wheelchair-bound at the time and could only walk with the help of crutches, she was still charged after the standoff for the disruption of public administration, and for injuring the testicles of a policeman, even though there was no relevant records of the event at the Beijing 110 Command Center. For her “crimes”, she was sentenced two years in jail.
After release, Ni and her husband found themselves homeless and they said the police prevented her from renting an apartment or staying in a hotel. With nowhere to go, they lived for a while in a donated tent in a park in Beijing, attracting much media attention.
The authorities moved the couple to a hotel room afterwards, regularly cutting off their electricity and running water to make life difficult for the couple.
In April 2011, Ni and her husband were also detained during a nation-wide crackdown on dissidents and rights activists when Beijing was jittery about the Arab Spring spreading to China.
Chinese rights activists have reacted strongly to Ni’s latest sentence.
Said Renee Xia, international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders in a statement, “By handing down this verdict to punish human rights activist Ni Yulan, who suffered from torture that left her paralyzed during previous imprisonment, the Chinese government tells the world defiantly that it has nothing but disdain for human rights and that it treats its international and constitutional obligations merely as decorations.”
Also watch this independent documentary (in Chinese) shot during the time Ni was living in a tent in Beijing’s Chaoyang district: