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Ni Yulan

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Defended causes :

Ni Yulan is known for her activism against expropriations and expulsion of local residents in old Beijing, as well as for persecuted Falun Gong members.

A native of Beijing, Ni Yulan is a Chinese dissident and former lawyer of 56 years. She began her career as a lawyer in a large business firm in Beijing.

It was in 2001, when the International Olympic Committee decided to award the 2008 Olympic Summer Games to Beijing that heractivism began. Indeed, thousands of Beijingers – including Ni Yulan’s neighbors – have been expropriated and ousted for the land to remain available for the future Olympic construction site. This type of case is very rarely defended by lawyers for fear of retribution from the government, Ni Yulan is one of the few who have agreed to defend these victims. She resigns from the firm that employed her and creates hers to devote herself to this cause. Her work will cost her excessive police and judicial harassment, which she still goes through today.


She was imprisoned several times, including in 2002 for a year for undermining public property during a protest against the demolition of a traditional house in Beijing: she denounced the inadequate compensation granted following these expropriations, as well as some cases of corruption. In prison she is brutally beaten, thus becoming crippled for life and fated to a wheelchair. At the end of her sentence, she is also disbarred.

In 2008, Ni Yulan and her husband are evicted from their house, which will eventually be destroyed, and arrested in April 2008 for opposing it. The couple are incarcerated for “obstruction” and released in 2010. Completely disarmed, they seek refuge in a makeshift shelter where Ni Yulan continues to advise plaintiffs on any type of case.

A few months later, given the resounding popularity of Ni Yulan, the couple is assigned to house arrest in a Beijing hotel that, in reality, serves as a secret prison for the police, a widespread practice against human rights activists. Unable to pay the hotel fees amounting to several thousand euros, the couple is accused in December 2011 of having “caused disturbance, voluntarily damaged and stolen the property of a company and abused several times other people”. In April 2012, Ni Yulan and her husband were once again sentenced to prison sentences: two years and eight months, and two years respectively.

Having developed respiratory and digestive problems during her last imprisonment, Ni Yulan’s health deteriorates during this third sentence. She develops a thyroid tumor and is not to receive any adapted care until her release in 2013.

International mobilization:

Ni Yulan is now an international symbol of international human rights. During her work in her makeshift camp in 2010, foreign journalists alerted by humanitarian organizations began to take an interest in Ni. Director He Yang made a documentary about Ni Yulan’s persecution, entitled “Emergency Shelter”.

She receives national as well as international support from several organizations advocating for human right activists (Human Rights in China, Amnesty, Front Line Defenders) or from foreign diplomats (United States).

The Dutch government awarded her its Human Rights Defenders Tukip Award for 2011. Her son, who was to receive that award in her behalf while she was imprisoned, was forbidden from going to the Netherlands.

Ni Yulan was the godmother of the graduating class of the Rhône-Alpes School of Lawyers for 2015.

In 2016 Ni Yulan received the International Woman of Courage Award. However, she was prevented from going to Washington to receive her prize.