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Scales of justice draw ruined fish farmer

By China Daily | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-21 07:26

Luo Liquan swapped carp farming for the courtroom when pollution put him out of business.

Two decades ago, he owned the largest fish farm in Tongliang county, Chongqing, and was so successful his friends nicknamed him "millionaire".

But Luo was left virtually penniless in 1997 when toxic pollution discharged into the Fujiang River killed more than 50,000 kilograms of fish.

Since then, the 67-year-old has been representing himself and others in courtrooms across China to seek justice for those affected by the illegal dumping of waste.

The disaster in 1997 affected dozens of families, and the local fish farming industry - which until that point produced about 2,000 metric tons a year - disappeared almost overnight.

Luo and several other farmers set out to find the truth and were soon convinced that a nearby chemical company was the source of the pollution.

The group presented their findings to the environmental protection department in 1998 but were rejected. Luo said three expensive legal teams were also invited to look into suing the company. Again, no one would take the case. In the end, Luo decided to go it alone.

Between 2001 and 2006, the county court heard his lawsuit four times, and each time the verdict went against him. He later appealed for help from the Supreme People's Court, but has so far received no reply.

Lou briefly returned to farming during this time. He signed a contract with a fish farm owned by a power company that would see him share his aquaculture techniques in return for 90 percent of the farm's output.

However, shortly before the fish were ready for the market, Luo said the company moved the stock to another place, resulting in about 80 percent of the fish dying in transit.

Luo sued the company and represented himself. He lost and was ordered to pay 180,000 yuan ($26,700) in damages. For the appeal, he hired a lawyer, "but he just tried to persuade me to give up to save on legal costs".

Frustrated, Luo fired the attorney and again represented himself. This time, he won. The judge overturned the original ruling and awarded him 30,000 yuan in compensation.

The former farmer, who left school after second grade, took his success as a sign he belonged in a courtroom. He began filling his shelves with books on Chinese law, and visited the local courthouse two or three times a week to watch trials and pick up tips.

Luo has gone on to take more than 90 pollution cases in various cities, including in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, about 1,000 kilometers from his hometown. He conceded he has lost about 90 percent of his cases.

After years of fighting polluting companies he said he realized that "dead fish were just the start" of the problem. "The potential damage to people's health is what's most terrible," he added.

Luo is now applying for a grassroots legal service license, which is issued by the local government and would allow him to represent clients without prior permission from a court.

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