Mr. Sun’s lawyers said in a statement that the other 19 defendants had received sentences ranging from one to 12 years in prison. The eagerness and speed with which the court handled the complex case, often pushing the trial past 12 hours a day for 14 consecutive days, “showed this was not a normal trial,” the lawyers added.
While Mr. Sun was best known for his unstinting criticisms of China’s government, he was also renowned for his business acumen. A veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, Mr. Sun worked at China’s state-owned Agricultural Bank of China before striking out on his own. Starting with 50 pigs and 1,000 chickens, he and his family built a business that came to employ thousands of people.
Mr. Sun also cultivated the image of a civic-minded entrepreneur. As his business grew, he built a town, Dawu City, that provided services to his growing number of employees and eventually included a 1,000-bed hospital. In the early 2000s, Mr. Sun took his ideas on the road to some of China’s top universities, speaking out on behalf of farmers and entrepreneurs.
The speeches nettled officials and brought him unwanted attention. In 2003 he was arrested on accusations of illegal fund-raising. A cast of academics, lawyers and journalists successfully campaigned for his release.
That brush with the law, which earned him fame, is in sharp contrast to this week’s trial. This time, Mr. Sun faced charges in a different kind of China.
Under Mr. Xi, a series of crackdowns on civil society has thinned out the ranks of liberal-minded lawyers and independent journalists. Xu Zhiyong, one of three lawyers who represented Mr. Sun in 2003 and a prominent activist, was detained last year after he urged Mr. Xi to resign, writing to Mr. Xi that “you’re just not smart enough.”