July 29 (UPI) — A Chinese court on Thursday sentenced an outspoken billionaire businessman to nearly 20 years in prison for “provoking” trouble and conspiring to oppose state institutions.
The businessman, Sun Dawu, was given an 18-year prison term for “gathering a crowd to storm state institutions, obstructing public service, picking quarrels and provoking troubles, disrupting production and operation, conducting coercive trade, illegal mining, illegal occupation of agricultural land, illegal absorption of public deposits.”
Sun’s company, Hebei Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, owns poultry operations in China and employs close to 10,000 people.
Sun has been outspoken and critical of the Chinese government on multiple issues, including the 2019 African swine flu outbreak.
The 67-year-old former pig farmer was arrested in March after a dispute between a state-owned farm and his company.
At trial, Sun said he was an outstanding member of the Communist party but admitted to making some missteps, including unspecified Internet posts.
“The way they’re investigating me now is making those close to us suffer and those who hate us rejoice,” Dawu said, according to the The Guardian. “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.”
“If this were wartime, I would have been sacrificed a long time ago,” Sun said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
In all, 19 defendants were sentenced to between 1 and 12 years.
Sun’s sentencing is one of many high-profile cases the Chinese government has pursued against outspoken entrepreneurs in recent years, including Alibaba chief Jack Ma and real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang.