Chinese Agricultural Businessman Sun Dawu Sentenced to 18 Years for ‘Seeking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble’

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sun dawu in 2019
This photo taken on September 24, 2019, shows Chinese agricultural entrepreneur Sun Dawu posing at a feed warehouse in Hebei, outside Beijing. (Image: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Sun, who prided himself on a system of ‘co-prosperity’ for owners and employees alike, ran afoul of the Communist Party for supporting human rights lawyers and economic reforms

Chinese billionaire Sun Dawu, owner of the Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, was arrested in China in April 2021 and charged with numerous offenses including illegal mining and “seeking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a charge often used for activists. After 14 consecutive days of trial, Sun was sentenced on Wednesday, July 28 to 18-years in prison by the Gaobeidian Municipal Court of Baoding city, Hebei Province.

Sun, 67, who has spoken out in the past about human rights and other politically sensitive topics, may spend the rest of his life in prison. 

Additional charges laid against the billionaire include illegally occupying farmland, assembling a crowd to attack state agencies and obstructing government workers from performing their duties. In addition to the lengthy prison sentence, Sun was fined 3.11 million yuan (US$478,697). 

Sun’s business empire includes meat and pet food processing facilities, as well as activities involving schools, hospitals and resorts that employ upwards of 9,000 people in hebei province. 

According to a statement by Sun’s legal team Dawu Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Group Co. Ltd was fined 30.5 million yuan (US$4.723 million) for illegally obtained income in the amount of 14.475 million yuan (US$2.241 million). The company was also ordered to refund “illegally raised funds” in the amount of RMB 1.037 billion (US$161 million).

19 other defendants were tried in the same case and were sentenced to varying lengths of prison time ranging from one year to 12 years. 

Also imprisoned are Sun Meng, Sun Dawu’s older son, who was sentenced to 12 years and fined 510,000 yuan (US$78,992) as well as Sun Dawu’s younger brother, Sun Zhihua who received a nine year fixed sentence and a fine of 550,000 yuan (US$85,187). 

16 members of the Dawu Group’s senior executive team were also imprisoned with sentences ranging from one year to four years and six months. 

A history of dissent

Last year, Sun, along with 20 relatives and business associates, were detained over a land dispute with a government-run farm. At the time, dozens of his employees reportedly found themselves in a physical confrontation with police resulting in Sun being charged with “assembling a crowd to attack state agencies,” according to an AFP report. 

Sun, who is reported to have close ties to some prominent Chinese political dissidents also criticised the Chinese government’s rural policies.

In 2019, during the African swine flu outbreak, Sun openly accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of covering up the outbreak, which severely affected his operations and devastated much of the country’s pork industry.  

In 2003, Sun was sentenced to prison for “illegal fundraising” however the case was overturned after uproar by several activists and the public. 

Sun  describes himself as an “outstanding Communist Party member” whose only mistake was posting content online that ran afoul with the official Party messaging. 

Sun said, “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.” the BBC reported

Dawu Legal Team’s statement on the verdict

On July 28, Sun’s legal team published a statement immediately following his verdict that condemned the politicized legal process.

“We are very disappointed and regret that the Gaobeidian Municipal Court ignored the opinions of most of the lawyers’ ‘not guilty’ defense of their clients and copied the procuratorate’s indictment to determine guilt on all charges.” the statement reads.

The Dawu Legal Team’s statement indicates that Sun had been detained in an unlawful “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) prison.

RSDL prisons, first established in 2013, are described as “a legalized form of black jail, where victims are disappeared by the state into incommunicado isolated detention for up to six months, sometimes more,” according to a report by Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO founded in late 2016 and based out of Spain. 

“We thank people from all walks of life at home and abroad for paying attention to the Dawu case. We earnestly request everyone to continue to pay attention to the Dawu case, and to pay attention to the environment for the survival and development of Chinese private enterprises, as well as the situation of human rights and rule of law in China,” Sun’s defense team’s statement reads.