DALI, China — Justin Franchi Solondz, an environmental activist from New Jersey who spent years evading charges of ecoterrorism in the United States by hiding out in China, was sentenced to three years in prison by a local court on Friday on charges of manufacturing drugs in this backpacker haven.
According to his father, Paul Solondz, the Dali police said they discovered 33 pounds of marijuana buried in the courtyard of the house that the younger Mr. Solondz rented, as well as what the prosecutor described as a drug laboratory inside the house.
Friends of Mr. Solondz in Dali said he went by the name Isaac Cox and was a familiar figure who favored black clothing, had a dog and rode a bicycle through the stone streets of Dali’s old section. (His mother, however, said court documents said he used the name David Isaac Hart.)
“He looked like a man on the run,” said a man who knew Mr. Solondz and did not give his name for fear of retribution from authorities and fellow foreigners. “Everyone who comes to this town is running away from something, some more than others.”
About 40 Americans are serving time in Chinese prisons, according to the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. A Chinese lawyer affiliated with the institute who helped Mr. Solondz’s parents hire Mr. Zeng said the fact that Mr. Solondz is an American and a fugitive wanted by the United States might have played a role in his relatively light sentence. “China’s central government is certainly aware of this case,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named for fear of antagonizing the authorities. “Diplomatic communication must have influenced the result.”