China to Try Magnate Sun Dawu As Rights Group Calls For His Release

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Originally published by RFA on July 14, 2021

Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Hebei are preparing to hold the trial of outspoken billionaire Sun Dawu on Thursday, as an overseas rights group called for his immediate release.

Sun, a former farmer, was detained in April 2021 alongside dozens of Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group employees, some of whom are members of his family. Company assets have been seized by local officials.

He will stand trial on July 15 at the Gaobeidian Municipal People’s Court alongside his wife, grown children and employees.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said he is being targeted for political reasons, due to his association with detained democracy activist Xu Zhiyong.

“CHRD condemns the prosecution of Sun and the others as a blatant attempt to punish Sun for his support of human rights defenders,” the group said in a statement on its website.

“CHRD urges the Chinese government to … end reprisals against Sun, and release him along with his family members and employees,” it said.

‘A more just society’

The group said Sun, 67, had used the profits from his billion-dollar agricultural enterprise to “support his ideals of a more just society.”

“This included supporting human rights lawyers and dissidents even after they became the target of a nationwide crackdown beginning in 2015,” CHRD said.

“Sun stayed in touch with them and paid for legal costs incurred in defending them against government prosecution,” it said.

The authorities soon turned their sights on Sun himself, dispatching 300 police officers to raid his company offices and detain Sun and 28 others on Nov. 11, 2020.

“Sun Dawu has made extraordinary contributions to improving the life of Chinese citizens living in rural China,” CHRD senior researcher Ramona Li said.

“His support of rights defenders was an extension of his concern for the welfare of people on the margins of the Chinese economy,” she said, adding that he took pride in his farming origins, and wanted to improve the lot of rural communities, which have missed out on the benefits of economic growth due to discriminatory household registration rules.

She said Sun had hosted conferences for reform-minded groups and provided material support to human rights lawyers throughout China.

Residential surveillance at a designated location

Sun currently faces eight criminal charges including “illegal mining” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The prosecution has said it is seeking a jail term of 25 years.

His defense team of some 50 attorneys has called for the case to be livestreamed.

They have also called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) central committee to send a taskforce to investigate the claims being made by local officials about Sun and his business.

Sun and his family were held incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL),” a form of treatment associated with a higher risk of torture, and often meted out to detainees in political cases, CHRD said.

“That Sun Dawu and his family have been put in a form of incommunicado detention that is reserved for those charged with state security and terrorism crimes despite not having received any qualifying charges shows that the Chinese government is pursuing a political case using economic charges as a plausible façade to punish Sun Dawu,” CHRD research and advocacy coordinator William Nee said.

The charges are linked to a dispute over the demolition of buildings on land leased to Xushui State Farm, a state-owned company, which Sun’s legal team says would normally be treated as a civil case.

But authorities have escalated it to a serious criminal case, likely at the behest of provincial-level or national leaders seeking to cut off societal support to reformers and activists like Xu Zhiyong, CHRD said.

It said the extreme speed with which local officials have processed the case also indicates the involvement of higher-ranking leaders.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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