A Chinese farmer who turned to hauling sand and gravel to make a living has been given a life sentence for allegedly dodging $556,000 in highway tolls. Prosecutors say Shi Jianfeng used fake license plates and documents to allow him and his hired drivers to avoid paying tolls during 2,300 trips made over an eight-month period beginning in May 2008. Public opinion, however, is firmly on the side of the farmer, and the stiff sentence has caused an uproar, the New York Times reports.
Critics of the sentence say the $550,000 figure appears hugely inflated, and accuse the government of being too hard on a man just trying to make a living—they also note his profit from those eight months amounted to just $30,000, meaning he would have lost $526,000 had he paid up. "Rape and murder will earn you 15 years in prison but evading road charges will get you life," read one posting on a popular Chinese message board. The vast majority of highways in China operate on a toll system, and much of the money ends up the pockets of corrupt officials.