- Chinese authorities announced on Wednesday that billionaire Sun Dawu is facing 25 years in prison over a range of charges, including disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public services, and illegal fundraising.
- Sun owns a number of companies based on rural industries and has long been an advocate for rural workers and landowners. His communes for workers have been described as “utopian.”
- However, his advocacy has made him a target, especially after he began quarreling with local state-owned enterprises over land rights.
- Sun was arrested along with 19 others, most of whom were family, and according to his legal team, his company is now being run by Communist Party representatives.
China Targets Billionaire
Sun Dawu, one of China’s most outspoken businessmen and rural worker advocates, could face 25 years in prison if convicted on a wide range of charges at a court hearing that is believed to take place next week, his legal team said on Monday.
Sun is accused of provoking trouble and disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public service, and illegal fundraising, among other charges, according to documents released Wednesday from prosecutors in Gaobeidian, a city in Hebei province.
Prosecutors also charged 19 other people with similar crimes, many of whom took Sun’s side in a November land dispute between Sun’s companies and state-owned enterprises. According to South China Morning Post, who spoke with a source on Sun’s legal team, prosecutors are asking that Sun’s eldest son receive a 16 years sentence and that Sun’s brother be handed an 11-year sentence.
Sun’s legal team appealed to Dang Xiaolong, the Communist Party secretary of Baoding, to reconsider the cases.
“If this case is not properly resolved, it would not be just a setback of Sun Dawu,” the letter said, adding that the charges against Sun could have a chilling effect on private business owners in China and could mar this year’s centennial celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party, which are meant to highlight how far the party has come.
Too Vocal a Critic
China, as of late, has been cracking down on billionaires and reigning in their power – especially if they’ve been known to be outspoken critics. Jack Ma noticeably fled from the public eye after scrutiny from state authorities, although he has managed to avoid any charges.
Sun, on the other hand, has been far more vocal in his criticisms of the party. He’s known for having extremely loyal employees and often uses them to push back against local party policies and officials; which could constitute the use of a gang and further exacerbate problems for his defense. His workers are so loyal because Sun is known for building large communes for them with above-standard housing, along with free education, groceries, daycares, and healthcare for employees and their families.
Since at least Wednesday, Sun’s companies, as well as the community facilities for the workers, have been run by Communist Party representatives. If Sun is convicted, it’s likely that his properties and companies will all be turned over to the state.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (NYT) (South China Morning Post)
Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off
The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.
Voting App Removed From App Stores
Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.
The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.
For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.
People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.
Response and Backlash
Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.
“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”
Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”
Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.
“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.
Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies
The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.
In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.
In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies.
The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.
Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Denmark Moves To Bar Life Prisoners From Starting New Romantic Relationships After Peter Madsen Controversy
While behind bars, the convicted murderer pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl and a 39-year-old Russian artist who he married in 2020.
Denmark’s government proposed a draft law this week aimed at preventing prison inmates serving life sentences from forming new romantic relationships behind bars.
If passed, the proposed bill would specifically limit correspondence and visitation rights during the first 10 years of detention to people the prisoner knew before incarceration. It would also ban prisoners from sharing details about their criminal activities on social media or on podcasts.
Demands for such legislation stemmed from public frustration over Danish inventor Peter Madsen, a 49-year-old who was convicted in 2018 for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. According to prosecutors, Madsen sexually assaulted Wall while she was on board his submarine for an interview. He then dismembered her body before the submarine sank in what police said might have been an attempt to destroy evidence.
While incarcerated, Madsen reportedly pursued relationships with female admirers, including a 17-year-old girl named Cammilla Kürstein. Kürstein has admitted that she fell in love with Madsen after exchanging letters and talking on the phone with him over the course of two years.
However, she became jealous in 2020 when he ultimately married 39-year-old Jenny Curpen, a Russian artist living in self-imposed exile in Finland. Curpen has said her communication and visits with Madsen also began in 2018.
What Comes Next?
While Madsen has earned particular heat for pursuing new romance behind bars, he is far from the only incarcerated person to do so.
“We have seen distasteful examples in recent years of prisoners who have committed vile crimes contacting young people in order to gain their sympathy and attention,” Justice Minister Nick Hækkerup said when speaking of the bill.
“This must obviously be stopped,” he continued, arguing that jail should not serve as “dating centres or media platforms to brag about crimes.”
Denmark’s right-wing opposition in parliament has already signaled support for the bill, which was sent to the committee stage on Wednesday. If approved, it is expected to go into effect in January of next year.
Still, human rights experts said they expect challenges to the law. For example, Elo Rytter, of the University of Copenhagen, told the BT newspaper that it would “interfere with prisoners’ right to a private life.” She also said outlawing public statements might “raise questions about censorship.”
See what others are saying:(The Guardian)(The Washington Post)(BBC)
World Anti-Doping Agency Will Review Cannabis Ban Following Sha’Carri Richardson’s Suspension
Any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until 2023.
Cannabis Ban for Athletes Under Review
The World Anti-Doping Agency announced Tuesday that it will review whether cannabis should stay on its list of prohibited substances.
The move comes three months after the agency’s policies notably prevented U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
In July, Richardson was given a 30 days suspension and stripped of her 100-meter win at the U.S. Olympics Trials when THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in her system. At the time, Richardson admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where it is legal, after learning that her biological mother had died.
The runner was ultimately met with an outpouring of support from people who argued that the drug is not a performance enhancer and is legal or decriminalized in multiple U.S. states, as well as in countries around the world.
The anti-doping agency did not specifically mention Richardson in its announcement, but it did say the plan is a response to “requests from a number of stakeholders” in international athletics.
It also said that cannabis will remain banned in 2022, and any changes that stem from the review will not take effect until the following year.