A prominent Chinese billionaire has been sentenced to 18 years in prison, the latest in a series of sanctions against outspoken business leaders.
Sun Dawu runs one of the country’s largest private agricultural enterprises in northern Hebei Province.
Sun, 67, has previously spoken about human rights and politically sensitive issues.
He was convicted of “arguing and causing unrest” – a charge often used against activists.
Other charges against him include illegal occupation of farmland, assembling a mob to attack state agencies and obstructing officials in the performance of their duties. He was also fined 3.11 million yuan ($ 478,697; £ 343,227).
Sun’s business is one of the largest in China, with businesses ranging from meat and pet food processing to schools and hospitals.
He was reportedly arrested last year, along with 20 family members and associates, following a land dispute with a government-run farm.
At the time, he said dozens of his employees were injured in an incident with the police linked to the conflict, according to an AFP report.
Sun is said to be close to some prominent Chinese political dissidents and has in the past criticized the government’s rural policies.
He was one of the few people to openly accuse the government of covering up an outbreak of African swine flu, which hit his farms in 2019, and then devastated much of the country’s industry.
He was also sentenced to prison in 2003, for “illegal fundraising”, but the case was quashed after a wave of support from activists and the public.
Sun reportedly denied many of the charges against him in a preliminary hearing, describing himself as an “outstanding member of the Communist Party”.
However, he reportedly admitted to making mistakes, including posting messages online.
“The way they are investigating me now causes our loved ones to suffer and those who hate us to rejoice. I wish to shoulder the burdens, no matter how severe, in exchange for the release of others. We are people who have made our contribution to society, ”he said.
China is cracking down on the country’s businesses and entrepreneurs. Big tech companies like Alibaba, Didi and Tencent are under investigation for a host of regulatory issues.
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