Less than two weeks after Chinese authorities placed wheelchair-bound rights lawyer Ni Yulan under house arrest, they began preventing foreign diplomats from visiting her, she said Monday.
Known for defending people evicted from their homes to make way for development, Ni was barred from traveling to the United States 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.
A business lawyer who has advocated civil rights for the past 15 years, Ni has been imprisoned twice, sentenced to hard labor and beaten so severely she lost use of both legs. She continues to file lawsuits against public security officials on behalf of fellow citizens, and she was placed under house arrest April 13.
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 told VOA.
According to Reuters, diplomats with knowledge of the situation also confirmed the group was turned away.
"Because of my health, and our terrible living conditions, some diplomats from five countries came to see me last Saturday," she told VOA's Mandarin Service. "They brought me food, greetings and blessings, but they were stopped by six plainclothes [police officers] outside the courtyard ... [who] hurled insulting remarks at them. When my husband heard the diplomats were here, he went out to meet them. He was also insulted by the plainclothes."
After more than 20 minutes of deadlocked confrontation, she said, the diplomats gave the food to her husband and left, quickly phoning Ni directly to make sure that her husband made it back to their rented unit safely.
Both uniformed and plainclothes police officers are stationed outside her apartment daily, Ni added.
"They are both inside and outside the courtyard. They watch us, will not allow people who don't live there to come into the courtyard, and that includes my friends and relatives who bring me food, even doctors," she said. "Doctor Xu, who once treated me, came to visit. He was dragged out of the courtyard."
On Monday, China's state-run Global Times published a commentary about the diplomats' attempted visit, saying China's relocation compensation has been increasing, and that Ni's fair-compensation campaign is just a platform to criticize the government that is encouraged by Western nations.
"The diplomats came to see me out of humanitarian spirit. They came to our help and rescue. That is what the Chinese government should be doing," Ni told VOA. "We are homeless. After the forced relocation, our property disappeared. We have been living in rented places, often forced to move by police. We are at the bottom of society. Nobody cares about us, cares about how we are living. And [Global Times] even makes irresponsible and sarcastic remarks."
The U.S. embassy did not immediately offer a comment about the case, but 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.
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 current 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 since President Xi Jinping took power in a widespread crackdown on dissent.
Ni was first jailed by Chinese authorities in 2002 and then again in 2008 after she defended the rights of residents evicted from their homes to make way for facilities for Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service. Portions of this report are from Reuters.