'I Felt They Could Shatter My Body'

Chinese rights lawyer Ni Yulan tells the story of her torture at the hands of local police that left her crippled.
2012-04-13
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Ni Yulan (C) and her husband Dong Jiqin (3L) pose with friends near the Forbidden City in Beijing, May 27, 2010.
AFP

The opening scenes of "Emergency Shelter," a documentary about embattled rights lawyer Ni Yulan, show a well-tended municipal park in Beijing. The scene gradually focuses on a small, orange tent in which Ni was living with her husband before her re-arrest. Ni, wheelchair-bound, tells the camera how she was crippled as the result of her torture by local police in 2002.

Police had targeted Ni after she began organizing her neighbors in 2001 to save their homes that were slated for demolition ahead of the Beijing Olympics. The rights lawyer has been homeless since 2008, when the Xicheng district government evicted her and her husband from their home. On April 10, 2012, Ni was sentenced to two-and-a-half years' imprisonment for "fraud." Her husband, Dong Jiqin, was sentenced to two years for "creating a disturbance."

The following extracts are from He Yang's 2010 film, which was published recently online by the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Defenders to highlight Ni's plight:

I have been doing rights work since 2001. As soon as [Beijing] won the Olympic bid ... on July 13, 2001 ... then a whole lot of things started to happen. And the stuff that was happening was getting more and more evil. There were a lot of violent, forced evictions. They said that they were improving the standard of accommodations for the people. But actually, they were deceiving them.

Back then, it was the government doing all the evicting. They didn't care whether they had discussed it with you or not, and they were going to demolish those buildings whether you agreed to it or not. All of the demolition and eviction notices carried the stamp of the district People's Governments. They just went right ahead and did it.

The Zhao family dwelling at 55 Xicheng was demolished on April 27, 2002. I went there that day to try to help [and was detained by police.] They pulled me out of the police car and into a police station in one of those old buildings. There were just a few of them in that office. They were mostly wearing police uniform without the caps.

They pinned me to the floor and tied me up with rope in a star shape. They also had a rope around my neck and they yanked on it and made me retch. It was very painful and hard to bear.

There was one of them on my right-hand side called Bian Weidong. He was pulling on my hair and using his elbow to bash the back of my head, behind my ear. The other policeman were called Zhao Yujing, Cheng Guangyuan, Shi Jianxin and Chen Yu. There were other policemen there but I can't remember their names. There were eight of them, and they all had me pressed to the floor. Their hands and feet were holding me down. There was a lot of pressure on the back of my neck and I could feel a lot of pain.

At the time, I felt that they could shatter my body into pieces. They broke glasses and stabbed and cut me several times with glass fragments in my groin area. It took ages to heal because the cuts were jagged, and when I got to the detention center they refused me medical treatment.... They also pulled my feet backwards and jumped on them until the bones broke.

Then they took me to the detention center and refused to treat my injuries. They didn't even carry out any sort of first aid. There were shards of bone sticking out of my injuries and even a year later I couldn't put any weight on them. They also pulled my legs over a couple of chairs and smashed down with their full weight on the bone that was in the gap between them....

It was so painful I thought that dying would be better than staying alive. I was screaming the whole time. I'm just a woman. I'm not going to be gritting my teeth and sweating it out like they do in novels. I couldn't stop [screaming].

They tortured me like this for more than 50 hours and then they carried me into the detention center. They said I had been taking photos at the scene of the demolition, and that I had been shouting and creating a disturbance in their office.... They took me to the detention center on a 10-day administrative sentence, and then they just didn't let me out [for months].

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.