A prominent Chinese billionaire has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after praising lawyers during a government crackdown on legal activists.
Sun Dawu, who earned his money raising pigs, was convicted of organizing an attack on officials and committing other offenses, including “causing quarrels and causing unrest.”
The president of the Dawu Agriculture Group was among 20 defendants who were tried Thursday in Gaobeidian, southwest of Beijing, in Hebei province.
They were arrested after Dawu employees tried in August 2020 to stop a state-owned company from demolishing a company building.
Sun, 67, was also fined 3.1 million yuan (£ 343,989), the Gaobeidian People’s Court said in a statement.
Sun was convicted of rounding up people to attack state organs, obstructing public affairs, causing quarrels, causing trouble, sabotaging production, illegally exploiting farmland, illegally occupying farmland and illegally taking public deposits, the court said.
His conviction comes amid the punishments inflicted on several outspoken business leaders.
Prominent Chinese billionaire Sun Dawu sentenced to 18 years in prison for praising lawyers during government crackdown on legal activists
Sun, who earned his money raising pigs, was convicted of organizing an attack on officials and committing other offenses, including “arguing and causing trouble”
Other defendants were sentenced to terms ranging from one to 12 years, according to a statement from the Dawu Group, one of China’s largest private companies.
He said the company was ordered to repay 1 billion yuan (£ 111 million) of investments that were improperly raised.
Sun became known nationally in 2003 when he was charged with illegal fundraising after soliciting investments for his business from friends and neighbors. The case, in which Sun denied many of the charges against him, sparked public support for Sun.
Since then, Sun has praised lawyers helping the public at a time when prominent legal figures have been jailed by Xi’s government.
Sun’s lawyer in the 2003 case, Xu Zhiyong, disappeared in February 2020. Other activists say he was charged with treason.
The BBC reported that the businessman is close to some prominent Chinese political dissidents and has at times criticized government policies and talked about human rights.
Sun was among 20 defendants who were tried Thursday in Gaobeidian, southwest of Beijing, in Hebei province.
He was also one of the few people to publicly accuse the government of covering up an African swine flu outbreak in 2019, the BBC reported.
The outbreak has affected Sun’s farms and devastated much of China’s pork industry.
Sun was charged with provoking feuds, a charge used against workers and other activists, when he was arrested in August 2020.
The trial was officially open to the public, but only one bystander from each accused’s family and 10 from the company were allowed due to coronavirus restrictions, defense lawyers said earlier.
China has taken a tougher line on the country’s businesses and entrepreneurs in recent years and months, which has seen the launch of investigations into suspected regulatory issues at large companies, including Alibaba and Didi.