China court jails billionaire pig farmer for ‘provoking trouble’

Sun Dawu, chairman of Dawu Agriculture Group, was handed 18 years in jail on a range of charges, including ‘provoking trouble’.

This file photo taken on September 24, 2019 shows Chinese pig farmer and billionaire Sun Dawu posing at a feed warehouse in Hebei, outside Beijing. - A Chinese court sentenced agricultural tycoon Sun Dawu to 18 years in jail on July 28, 2021 for a catalogue of crimes including "provoking trouble" after the outspoken billionaire and grassroots rights supporter was tried in secret [File: Noel Celis/AFP]

A prominent Chinese billionaire pig farmer has been sentenced to 18 years in prison and fined 3.1 million yuan ($480,000) on a range of charges, including organising an attack on officials and ‘provoking trouble’.

Sun Dawu, chairman of Dawu Agriculture Group, was arrested after praising lawyers during a crackdown on legal activists by President Xi Jinping’s government.

He was among 20 defendants who stood trial in the People’s Court of Gaobeidian, southwest of Beijing in Hebei province. They were arrested after Dawu employees in August 2020 tried to stop a state-owned enterprise from demolishing a company building.

The court said Sun was found guilty of crimes including “gathering a crowd to attack state organs”, “obstructing government administration” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

In this October 5, 2020, photo provided by the Legal Team of Dawu Group, Sun Dawu stands at a whiteboard at a hospital in Baoding in northern China’s Hebei Province. The board reads ‘implement the concept of running the hospital, do a good job in team building, be a good doctor who is a good doctor, a responsible person’ [File: Legal Team of Dawu Group/AP]

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 ($155m) in investment that was raised improperly.

Sun became nationally known 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 Xi’s government. Sun’s lawyer in the 2003 case, Xu Zhiyong, disappeared in February 2020. Fellow activists say he was charged with treason.

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.

‘Wholly socialist’

Prosecutors alleged the Dawu Group deceived its employees, “seriously interfered with local orderly administrative management” and “endangered national grassroots political stability”, according to a court witness account shared by his legal team.

In response, Sun said the Dawu Group was “wholly socialist, everyone is on the road to common prosperity, and Dawu employees live very well”, according to the account.

The Dawu Group employed more than 9,000 people before Sun’s assets were seized by the state and employees were forced out after Sun’s arrest in November.

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.

His farms were badly affected by the 2019 African swine fever outbreak, which decimated pig herds nationwide.

Dawu 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.

China has cracked down on high-profile business figures critical of the Communist Party’s rule in recent years, with former property developer chairman Ren Zhiqiang also jailed for 18 years last year after penning an essay lambasting Xi’s handling of COVID-19.

Source: News Agencies