Ni Yulan and Dong Jiqin, October 7, 2013
Housing rights advocate Ni Yulan (倪玉兰) left the Beijing Women’s Prison around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 7, 2013, after completing a two-year-and six-month sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” According to her husband, Dong Jiqin (董继勤), her poor health— including back and thyroid problems—had worsened during her imprisonment, and the prison authorities had refused to grant medical parole despite multiple applications.
When Ni learned of the disappearance of rights defender Cao Shunli (曹顺利), whom she has known for many years, she said, “I am especially concerned about her. Cao is an extraordinary person: all of her work has been done to advance the protection of human rights. I hope that everyone will closely follow her situation and that she will return home soon.”
She also expressed concern about the detention of many other rights defenders, saying “our basic right to exist is being deprived.”
In prison, Ni received visits from staff members of foreign embassies in China and believes that the concern and attention from the international community is critical. “The attention and appeal from the international community contributed to my improved treatment in prison.”
Ni described her daily routine in prison as being extremely painful. “I had to get up before 6:00 a.m., and had to, like normal people, attend ‘study classes’ until 10:00 p.m. Every day I had to endure this for 16 hours. My back and legs hurt, and I was weak all over. I can no longer walk even with crutches.”
Her release brings to a close an ordeal that began at the end of her last prison term, in April 2010. Her home having been demolished while she was in prison, she and her husband began sleeping in a tent in the park. The authorities later relocated them to a guesthouse but cut off their heat and electricity that winter.
The couple was detained in April 2011, tried in December, and convicted in April 2012 of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Ni was additionally convicted of “fraud.” On appeal, the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court overturned the “fraud” charge but upheld the “picking quarrels” conviction for both. Ni received a two-month reduction in her sentence; Dong received no reduction and served two years until his release in April 2013.
A former legal worker, Ni began her activism after China won the Olympic bid in 2001, when Beijing began large-scale demolitions to make way for Olympics-related construction. She helped those affected by forced demolitions and also fought the demolition of her own home. After brutal beatings by police in 2002, she had to use crutches to walk, and later became wheelchair bound since 2009.
Ni’s case has gained international attention in recent years. In January 2012, the Dutch government awarded her the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Tulip.
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