By Megha Rajagopalan and Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have placed a disabled rights lawyer under house arrest and prevented a group of foreign diplomats from visiting her, she said on Monday, ratcheting up pressure weeks after the U.S. State Department gave her a bravery award.
Ni Yulan, known for defending people evicted from their homes to make way for development, had been held under house arrest for 12 days, she told Reuters.
Authorities prevented Ni from travelling late last month to receive the State Department’s International Women of Courage Award, which the department says is given to female advocates of human rights, justice and gender equality.
Beijing police could not be reached for comment. China’s Foreign Ministry has said exit-entry authorities acted in accordance with Chinese law in the case.
Five foreign diplomats, including those from the European Union, Germany, Canada, France and Switzerland, had sought to see Ni at her home and deliver food over the weekend, but were prevented from entering, she said. Diplomats with knowledge of the situation confirmed the group was turned away.
“Plainclothes officers did not allow them to come into my home,” Ni said by text message. A diplomat with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the group was denied access by plainclothes police.
The French and German embassies confirmed their diplomats were part of the group. The Canadian and Swiss embassies could not immediately be reached for comment. The European Union delegation in Beijing declined to comment.
The U.S. embassy on April 13 tweeted a photo of Ni with U.S. ambassador Max Baucus and Judith Heumann, special adviser for international disability rights at the State Department in commemoration of the award.
“We call upon Chinese authorities to end their restrictions on Ms Ni’s activities and allow her to continue her important work protecting the rights of her fellow citizens,” U.S. embassy spokesman Benjamin Weber told Reuters.
Ni, who was left wheelchair-bound by a police beating in 2002 after filming the forced demolition of a client’s home, added that she is likely to be evicted from her home, but plainclothes police would not allow her to leave to search for a new apartment.
China’s leadership has detained or imprisoned dozens of rights lawyers in a widespread crackdown on dissent since President Xi Jinping took power.
Ni has been jailed repeatedly, first in 2002 and then again in 2008 after she defended the rights of residents evicted from their homes to make way for Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics.