Beijing postpones trial for housing activist

Society Materials 30 July 2008 10:37 (UTC +04:00)

Beijing authorities have postponed a trial for well-known housing rights activist Ni Yulan, likely due to fears of bad publicity during the Olympic Games period, Ni's husband told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Wednesday.

Ni had been scheduled to be put on trial on August 4, four days before the August 8-24 international sporting event begins, but Beijing's Xicheng Court informed Ni's lawyer Tuesday that the trial will be postponed, with no new date scheduled, Ni's husband Dong Jiqin said.

After Beijing authorities announced the original trial date this week, foreign media reported about it, reported dpa.

"It could be because they're afraid holding the trial before the Olympics could create a negative impact," Dong said.

"They're afraid many overseas reporters will be there and their plot will be exposed. They're afraid of embarrassment," he said.

Ni, 48, was arrested on April 15 when she tried to stop dozens of workers from knocking down a wall of her home, which she had refused to vacate for city redevelopment, despite threats and pressure from the authorities.

Police alleged the former lawyer beat a member of the demolition crew, but Dong denies this, asking how Ni could have hit anyone when she is disabled and walks with crutches. Dong said one of the nearly two dozen men sent to tear down the wall pretended he was injured and lay on the ground before police arrived. Ni was formally arrested on suspicion of "obstructing official business" on April 29.

Dong said his wife could be sentenced to a prison term of two to three years if convicted.

Dozens of other rights activists and dissidents have been detained, sentenced to prison or kept under house arrest or surveillance in the last few months as the government intensified its efforts to minimize the chance of embarrassing protests or interviews with foreign media during the games.

Ni's family is among many who were ordered to move after Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics in 2001 to make way for construction of new commercial buildings and luxury apartments.

The new construction had nothing to do with Olympic venues, but were seen by local officials as a way to beautify the city and increase revenues.