A Chinese court sentenced a billionaire who runs one of China’s largest private agricultural businesses to 18 years in prison over his vocal opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.
Sun Dawu, the billionaire owner of Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” the BBC reported Thursday. The charge is often used by the often hypersensitive communist regime to imprison activists and human rights campaigners.
The 67-year-old is reported to have spoken critically about human rights and other sensitive political topics in China.
Other charges levied against the outspoken billionaire include illegally occupying farmland, assembling a crowd to attack state agencies, and obstructing government workers from carrying out their duties. In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, Sun was also fined 3.11 million yuan (roughly $479,000).
He was reportedly arrested last year along with 20 relatives and business associates, allegedly over a land dispute with the government.
The BBC reports:
At the time, he said dozens of his employees were injured in an incident with police related to the dispute, according to an AFP report.
Sun is said to be close to some prominent Chinese political dissidents and has in the past criticised the government's rural policies.
He was one of the few people to openly accuse the government of covering up an African swine flu outbreak, which affected his farms in 2019, and later devastated much of the country's industry.
He also was sentenced to prison in 2003, for "illegal fundraising" but the case was overturned after an outpouring of support from activists and the public.
Despite claiming to be an “outstanding Communist party member,” Sun continued to remain outspoken online until his arrest.
According to a website set up to defend Sun, the billionaire alleges that prosecutors used “many despicable means to willfully create a wrongful case” against him.
Sun’s secretary Ji Weilian, Dawu Group chairman Sun Meng, Dawu Group General Manager Liu Ping and deputy supervisor Sun Zhihua were all placed under arrest and face similar charges. The website alleges that they were placed under a form of highly-surveilled house arrest called RSDL, where they faced some degree of torture to obtain confessions.
"The way they're investigating me now is making those close to us suffer and those who hate us rejoice. I wish to take the charges upon myself, even if they're severe, in exchange for the release of others. We are people who have made contributions to society," he said, per the BBC.
China’s imprisonment of the billionaire comes amid its crackdown on outspoken entrepreneurs and technology companies, including Tencent, DiDi and Alibaba, which are currently under investigation for a variety of regulatory issues.