Chinese human rights activist Ni Yulan has been banned from leaving the country to receive an International Women of Courage award in the US. Ni told US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Monday that police in Beijing had frozen her passport and – despite seeking help from the US foreign minister – she was unable to travel to Washington to attend Tuesday’s ceremony.

award winner
Photo: Wikicommons.

“They said the reason being I was directly related to the 709 crackdown so I am not allowed to leave the country,” Ni told RFA.

On July 9 last year, China detained multiple human rights lawyers for “subversion of state power” in an operation dubbed the “709 crackdown”.

She was later forcefully kicked out of her home in Beijing by a group of anonymous people on March 26, Ni told Voice of America (VOA) on Tuesday.

“The suppression will not stop us. If we are are not fighting for our rights, we might not be able to survive,” Ni said.

‘Thrilled’ by award

Ni had been giving legal advice to Beijing residents whose homes had been slated for demolition. She was jailed twice and – according to Human Rights Watch in 2002 – became handicapped after being tortured in prison.

She said she was genuinely happy about the award: “I’m thrilled because we got this award at the most difficult time. I am honoured for our work to be recognised by the world,” Ni said.

During the award ceremony, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Ni’s efforts to defend Beijing’s residents. “Ni Yulan has paid a steep price for her efforts to assert the legal rights of Chinese citizens,” he said. “Her outspokenness has led her to imprisonment, during which she was beaten so badly that she became paralyzed from the waist down, but that hasn’t stopped her.”

Ni is the third Chinese activist to receive the award after Chinese lawyer Guo Jianmei in 2011 and Tibetan poet Woeser in 2013.

The International Women of Courage awards seeks to recognise 14 women around the globe for their leadership in advocating for justice, human rights, democracy, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Ashley is a Hong Kong-based multi-media journalist. She has a special interest in arts and culture. She has worked with the BBC and the Associated Press and holds a journalism degree from the University of Sheffield.