Sun Dawu, 67, a Chinese bilionaire, has been sentenced 18 years in prison

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Sun Dawu, 67, a Chinese bilionaire who runs one of the country’s largest private agricultural businesses in the northern province of Hebei, pig farmer, has been sentenced 18 years in prison after was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a charge often used against activists. Sun, his brothers, son and business associates were sentenced yesterday by a court in the northern city of Gaobeidian. He was also fined 3.11 million yuan ($478,697; £343,227). He was one of the few people to openly accuse the government of covering up a huge swine flu outbreak. Other defendants received sentences ranging from one to 12 years. Sun reportedly denied many of the accusations against him in a pre-trial hearing, describing himself as an “outstanding Communist party member”, but admitted making mistakes, including posting messages online.

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Charges against him include illegally occupying farmland, assembling a crowd to attack state agencies and obstructing government workers from performing their duties. He founded the Dawu group in the 1980s, and it employs thousands of people now. He provided support to human rights lawyers and dissidents. Since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in 2012, many of Sun’s defenders have been jailed or silenced, as the party’s tolerance for public criticism has shrunk dramatically.