A billionaire Chinese pig farmer was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in China, a charge commonly used against activists and protesters.
Sun Dawu, chairman of Dawu Agriculture Group, was arrested earlier this year after 300 police officers raided his offices, according to the advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
The 67-year-old pig farmer was found guilty of eight charges by the Gaobeidian District people’s court in Hebei Province. He was arrested along with 20 of his family members and business associates.
In recent pre-trial hearings, Sun denied the accusations against him but admitted to making mistakes.
“The way they are investigating me now is making those close to us suffer and those who hate us rejoice,” he said. “I am willing to take the charges by myself, even if they are severe, for the release of others.”
Sun became nationally known in 2003 after been charged with illegal fundraising and canvassing for investments for his businesses from neighbors and friends. This case saw him receive massive support from the public.
Since then, Sun has praised lawyers who help the public after prominent figures have been imprisoned by Xi’s government. Sun’s Lawyer in the 2003 case, Xu Zhiyong, was arrested last year alongside other human activists and lawyers.
The businessman has long defended rural policies and demanded greater political freedom for farmers to protect their economic interests.
His farms were badly affected by a swine flu outbreak in 2019 which wiped out pig herds around China.
Sun embarrassed the Hebei local government for attempting to cover up the scale of the outbreak. He posted thousands of pictures online of dead pigs, forcing the government to promptly respond.
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His arrest was an obvious attempt to punish him for his support of human rights defenders, CHRD said.
He was fined 3.1 million yuan ($480,000). Other defendants received charges ranging from one to 12 years imprisonment.
The full list of his charges includes gathering crowds to attack state agencies, illegal fundraising, obstructing public service, picking quarrels and provoking trouble, illegal occupation of agricultural land, conducting coercive trade, disrupting production and operation and illegal absorption of public deposits.
Dawu Agriculture Group said the company was ordered to refund 1 billion yuan ($155 million) in investment that was raised improperly.