It's been nearly nine months since Sun Dawu was arrested, and on Wednesday, the Chinese billionaire pig farmer heard his fate: 18 years behind bars, as well as a nearly $500,000 fine. Sun's crimes, per a Chinese court: "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," a charge the Guardian and BBC note is often used against human rights activists. Per NBC News, the 67-year-old tycoon, whose Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group is one of the biggest companies in China, was also found guilty by the People's Court in Gaobeidian of obstructing government officials, illegally occupying farmland, illegally mining, and gathering a crowd to attack state agencies. He was detained last year—along with more than 20 others, including his wife, sons, daughters-in-law, and some of his employees—over a land dispute regarding a government-owned farm, according to local media.
But allies of Sun, who's said to have described himself at a pretrial hearing as an "outstanding Communist party member," say the charges against him were only brought because he keeps close company with dissidents, and because he's an outspoken critic of the Chinese government—he accused it of covering up a 2019 swine fever outbreak, as one example. "The way they're investigating me now is making those close to us suffer and those who hate us rejoice," Sun reportedly said at the hearing. "I wish to take the charges upon myself, even if they're severe, in exchange for the release of others." Sun isn't the only high-profile businessman the Chinese government has targeted: In September, real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang, who called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "clown" after a Xi speech, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges, while Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma disappeared for several months after a regulatory crackdown on his businesses. (Read more China stories.)