Hebei: Philanthropic entrepreneur Sun Dawu gets 18 years in prison

Sun Dawu, a businessman and philanthropist, was accused of "creating unrest" and financial crimes. Critical of the leadership, he has long been targeted by the regime because of his support to dissidents and activists. Family members and employees of his company were sentenced with him. Large private groups that could threaten the power of the Chinese Communist Party have come under attack.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Yesterday the People's Court of Gaobeidian (Hebei) sentenced agricultural entrepreneur and philanthropist Sun Dawu, to 18 years in prison, after he came under fire from the Chinese authorities for his commitment to social justice and humanitarian activists like Xu Zhiyong.

Sun was charged with multiple offences, including "provoking riots" and organising illegal fundraising. With sentences ranging from 18 months to 12 years, the judges also sentenced two of his sons, as well as the businessman's brothers and several employees of his company.

The Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group will have to pay a fine of more than 30 million yuan (€3.9 million). The authorities confiscated 14 million yuan (1.8 million euro) from the agricultural company, which is also being asked to return one million yuan (130,000 euro) it had on deposit from its workers and residents in Hebei.

In an attempt to save his family and co-workers, Sun assumed all responsibility for the alleged crimes. The defence has already announced its intention to appeal. According to the businessman's lawyers, the prosecution collected "inadmissible" testimonies during pre-trial detention, as they were obtained while the accused were in "excruciating conditions".

A protégé of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its early days, 67-year-old Sun is the founder of a billion-dollar agricultural empire. Until his arrest in November, the entrepreneur used his group's profits to promote social justice, especially in China's poorest rural areas.

Sun had already gone on trial in the past for his harsh criticism of the country's leadership. The former farmer-turned-manager has openly criticised the CCP's agricultural policy and helped democratic dissidents such as those belonging to the "New Citizens" movement; in 2019 he also accused the authorities of hiding the real damage caused by African swine fever outbreaks.

Analysts note that Sun's conviction will fuel further fears in the private sector. The party is worried about losing political control in the face of businessmen who amass vast wealth, such as Sun or Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

The regime's clampdown on private groups has not spared even tech giants such as Didi and Tencent, which like Ma's business empire are being investigated for alleged regulatory violations.