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UPDATE: On July 29, Ni Yulan's lawyer was informed by the court that her trial would be postponed. No new date was set, nor did the court provide reasons for the last-minute postponement. Ni remains under indictment and faces up to three years in prison.

(New York) - The Chinese government should immediately release the housing rights activist Ni Yulan and drop all charges against her, Human Rights Watch said today. Ni Yulan's trial is scheduled to take place in Beijing on August 4, four days before the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on August 8.

Ni, a 47-year-old lawyer, has spent a decade defending the rights of forcibly evicted residents.

"Ni Yulan is a courageous activist whose only crime has been to defend her rights and the rights of victims of forced evictions in Beijing," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "To try her on the eve of the Games is an extraordinary insult to those who lost their homes to the Beijing Olympics and shows contempt for human rights concerns raised by the international community."

Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evicted and their homes demolished in the course of Bejiing's Olympic makeover. These evictions rarely respected due process or the requirements under Chinese law for consultation or compensation. In some cases, residents were violently evicted by thugs and wrecking crews hired by the construction companies clearing sites for new buildings (for background, see Human Rights Watch's report, "Demolished: Forced Evictions and the Tenants' Rights Movement in China."

On April 15, 2008, without warning, more than a dozen workers and police knocked down the wall surrounding Ni's house in Qianzheng hutong, in the central Xicheng district of Beijing. According to her husband, Dong Jiqin, when Ni tried to protect her home, she was hit on head with a brick and dragged to the ground by one of the demolition workers. Police detained Ni and accused her of assaulting a demolition worker. According to information from China Human Rights Defender (CHRD), a Chinese human rights monitoring group, police at the Xinjiekou Police Station beat Ni until she lost consciousness. They also confiscated her crutches, without which she has extreme difficulty standing. On April 29, the Beijing Public Security Bureau of Xicheng district formally arrested her on charges of 'obstructing a public official' (Article 277 of the Criminal Law), a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Ni's lawyer was allowed to visit her in mid-June in detention and reported that, "She was in a very bad condition. She could hardly walk, she was very, very weak and deathly pale," he told overseas media. On June 30, Ni filed a complaint accusing the police of beating her in custody.

This was not Ni's first brush with the authorities over housing rights. In April 2002, Ni was detained for 75 days after she filmed the destruction of the house of an evicted tenant. While in detention, she was severely beaten, leaving her maimed and in need of crutches to walk. In September 2002, she was sentenced to a year in prison, losing her lawyer's license as a result. Undaunted, she continued to denounce illegal evictions and unfair compensations after her release.

In 2004, with two fellow housing rights activists, Ye Guozhu and Zheng Mingfang, she applied for a permit to hold a demonstration in Beijing. The authorities responded by detaining Ye, and sending police to Ni and Zheng. Ye was sentenced to four years in prison in 2004 on charges of 'disrupting social order.' On July 26, 2008, he completed his sentence, but was taken away directly from the prison by the police, who told his family that Ye will be detained until at least October 1, after the end of the 2008 Olympic Games.

"Ni's case shows the price that ordinary people pay in China's "harmonious society" when they try to defend their rights," said Richardson. "If George Bush, Nicholas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and other world leaders attending the Games fail to publicly call on the Chinese leadership to release Ni Yulan and the hundreds of other courageous government critics now languishing in prison, they will in effect have endorsed these gross abuses."

Chronology of Ni Yulan's Case

July 13, 2001: Beijing wins the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Extensive plans to remodel the city entail the eviction of hundreds of thousands of residents and their relocation in peripheral suburbs. Ni Yulan, a 40-year-old lawyer who lives in a traditional alley in the center of Beijing, on 19, Qianzhang hutong, just off Xizhimen Wai Dajie, devotes increasing efforts to the defense of tenants' rights.

April 27, 2002: Ni is beaten up and taken into police custody for filming the forced demolition of a Beijing home. She is detained for 75 consecutive days, and while in detention is severely beaten, leaving her unable to walk without a cane or crutches.

September 27, 2002: Ni is arrested when petitioning the Beijing National People's Congress Standing Committee about having been beaten in police custody. She is charged with 'obstructing public duty' and sentenced to one year in prison. As a result of her criminal conviction, she loses her professional lawyer's license and the right to practice her profession.

2003-2004: Upon her release, and despite ongoing official harassment and retaliation, Ni continues to help petitioners and those who face forced eviction in Beijing.

August 2004: Police detain Ni and fellow housing right activist Ye Guozhu after they file an application to hold a demonstration to protect tenants from abusive forced evictions in Beijing. Ni is quickly released, but Ye is charged in September 2005 and sentenced to four years of imprisonment.  

September 9, 2005: Ni co-signs a collective letter to Louise Arbour, the United Nations' High Commissioner on Human Rights, on the eve of her visit to Beijing. The letter calls for her attention to serious, ongoing human rights violations in China.

November 16, 2005: Police warn Ni against leaving her home during President Bush's visit to China. Two days later, she is assaulted by unidentified men as she takes a walk in a nearby park. She is taken into custody by the police after reporting the attack.

March 2007: Ni is put under house arrest during the meeting in Beijing of the National People's Congress.

April 15, 2008: Police and workers from a demolition crew knock down a wall surrounding Ni's house. She is hit on the head by a brick and dragged to the ground by one of the workers. Ni is taken away by the police for a 'false report' about the assault against her and put in detention the Police Station of Xicheng district. Her husband Dong Jiqin is also detained for several days.

April 29, 2008: Ni is formally arrested under the charge of 'obstructing public duty' (weihai gongwu zui, article 274 of the Criminal law of the People's Republic of China). The crime is punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.

June 13, 2008: Ni's lawyer, Hu Xiao, from the prominent Mo Shaoping law firm, is able to visit her at the detention center of Xicheng District. She tells him she has been beaten by police during her detention there.

June 30, 2008: Ni lodges a complaint accusing police of beating her in custody. According to her lawyer, Hu Xiao, "She was in a very bad condition when I saw her, she could hardly walk, and she was very, very weak and deathly pale."

July 26, 2008: Upon his release from prison on July 26, 2008, Ye Guozhu is immediately detained by the police, who inform his family that he will remain in their custody until at least October 1, 2008, after the Olympics are over.

August 4, 2008: Trial due to take place at Xicheng People's Court, Courthouse #13, 12 Beilishilu, Xicheng District, Beijing.

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