March 31, 2016 / 11:48 AM / a year ago

China says U.S. has 'ulterior motives' in award to rights lawyer

Disabled Chinese rights lawyer Ni Yulan sits on a wheelchair during her interview with Reuters at their home in Beijing in this October 6, 2013 file photo.Kim Kyung-Hoon

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday the United States has "ulterior motives" in giving a bravery award to a disabled Chinese rights lawyer who said she was not allowed to travel to the United States to receive it.

Ni Yulan, who is known for defending people evicted from their homes, was chosen as one of 14 women 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.

Ni told Radio Free Asia and other media this week that she was unable to travel to receive her prize because authorities refused to issue her a passport, saying she was under a travel ban because of her contact with other rights lawyers.

Ni could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Beijing police could not be reached for comment.

China's Foreign Ministry said China lawfully manages its entry-exit system.

"The U.S. awarding a prize to this sort of person is completely out of ulterior motives," said ministry spokesman Hong Lei in a regular briefing. "We oppose foreign governments making use of the human rights issue to infringe on China's domestic affairs."

Ni, who is wheelchair-bound, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison in April 2012 for causing a disturbance and fraud. Rights groups contend the charges against her were trumped up. The case was watched closely by the U.S. and European Union.

According to a transcript of his remarks at the awards ceremony on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Chinese authorities would not issue Ni a passport. Hong did not directly confirm this when asked about the case.

"Ni Yulan has paid a steep price for her efforts to assert the legal rights of Chinese citizens," Kerry added.

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 left disabled by a police beating in 2002 after filming the forced demolition of a client's home and was then jailed. She was again jailed and beaten by police in 2008 for defending the rights of people evicted from their homes to make way for Beijing's 2008 Summer Olympics.

Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie

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