A prominent billionaire Chinese pig farmer who was detained after praising lawyers during a crackdown on legal activists by China’s government was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of organising an attack on officials.
- His employees tried to stop a state-owned enterprise from demolishing a company building in August 2020
- The court said Sun was convicted of gathering people to attack state organs and obstructing public affairs, among a raft of other charges
- The Dawu Group said other defendants received sentences ranging from one to 12 years
Sun Dawu, chairman of Dawu Agriculture Group, was among 20 defendants who stood trial in Gaobeidian, southwest of Beijing in Hebei province.
They were detained after Dawu employees in August 2020 tried to stop a state-owned enterprise from demolishing a company building.
Sun also was fined 3.1 million yuan ($650,890), the People’s Court of Gaobeidian said in a statement.
Sun was convicted of gathering people to attack state organs, obstructing public affairs, picking quarrels, sabotaging production, illegal mining, illegal occupation of farmland and illegally taking public deposits, the court said.
Other defendants received sentences ranging from one to 12 years, according to a statement from Dawu Group.
It said the company was ordered to refund 1 billion yuan ($209 million) in investment that was raised improperly.
Sun became known throughout China in 2003 when he was charged with illegal fundraising after soliciting investments for his business from friends and neighbours.
The case prompted an outpouring of public support for Sun.
Since then, Sun has praised lawyers who help the public at a time when prominent legal figures have been imprisoned by President Xi’s government.
Sun’s lawyer in the 2003 case, Xu Zhiyong, disappeared in February 2020. Fellow activists say he was charged with treason.
Sun was accused of provoking quarrels, a charge used against labour and other activists, when he was detained in August 2020.
The trial officially was open to the public but only one spectator from the family of each defendant and 10 from the company were allowed due to coronavirus restrictions, defence lawyers said earlier.
The businessman has for decades been a vocal critic of China’s rural policies and has demanded greater freedom for farmers to organise to protect their economic interests.
He ran a website in the early 2000s that included criticism of state-owned banks, which he accused of neglecting rural investment while funnelling rural residents’ savings toward urban projects.
His farms were badly affected by the 2019 African swine fever outbreak, which decimated pig herds nationwide.
He criticised the Hebei local government for attempting to cover up the scale of the outbreak and posted pictures of thousands of dead pigs online — quickly forcing it to respond.