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Ni Yulan and the Ongoing Struggle for Rights in Beijing

Ni Yulan and her husband (courtesy AP)

Human rights lawyer Ni Yulan and her husband, Dong Jiqin, were jailed earlier this month on charges of “picking quarrels, provoking trouble and wilfully destroying private and public property.” Ni and her husband were initially detained nearly a year ago, amid a wave of Chinese intellectuals and activists being censured that coincided with the Arab Spring, and were imprisoned on ostensible fraud charges after what was described by Ni and Dong’s daughter as “an abnormal legal process.”

The BBC reports that Ni’s visibility as an advocate for property and human rights began in 2002, when her neighborhood in Beijing was demolished in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics:

She has been banned from working as a lawyer but she and her husband have continued to advise others whose land has been seized. She was sentenced to a year in jail in 2002 for “obstructing official business” and to two years’ imprisonment in 2008 for “harming public property”. Fifty-one-year-old Ms Ni uses a wheelchair – a consequence, she and her supporters say, of mistreatment by police.

The plight of those whose homes were destroyed in the interest of Olympic development is the subject of the 2006 documentary Meishi Street, directed by Ou Ning.

"Meishi Street" (dir. Ou Ning)

In this film, narrated entirely from the perspective of those forcibly evicted from Beijing neighborhoods, Ou Ning strives to do much the same as Ni Yulan: to give strength—whether through legal action or storytelling—to those whose livelihoods and voices have been trampled by the powers that be. Al Jezeera reports:

Ni and her supporters deny the [fraud] charges and say she is being punished for her years of activism, especially her advocacy for people forced from their homes to make way for the fast-paced real-estate development that remade Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.


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