Villagers detained after a clash with authorities in which police opened fire on protesters and killed at least three people have been sentenced to prison, media reports said yesterday.
Twelve people from the village of Dongzhou in Guangdong Province were given sentences up to seven years for their role in the Dec. 6 protest over land seizures, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said. Nine others were acquitted, it said.
The villagers were tried this week and sentenced on Wednesday for illegal assembly, disturbing public order and illegally manufacturing explosives used against police, the newspaper said.
Radio Free Asia, a US-funded broadcaster, said three of the villagers accused of instigating the protest were given the longest sentences. Reports of police firing guns at crowds are rare in China.
A man who answered the telephone in Shanwei, the city that oversees Dongzhou, said he was "unclear" about the sentences. He would give only his surname, Xie. An official at the court where the trial was held refused to release any details.
Thousands of villagers in Dongzhou gathered in December to protest inadequate compensation for land seized by the local government to build a power plant. Authorities say police opened fire after they were attacked by demonstrators armed with knives, spears and explosives.
The government said three people were killed but residents put the toll as high as 20.
The clash is considered the deadliest in a series of increasingly frequent confrontations throughout China between police and villagers angry over land seizures for construction of factories, shopping malls and other projects.
One Dongzhou villager who did not want to give his name for fear of official retaliation said yesterday he had heard that six or seven villagers had been sentenced.
"I don't know what they've been charged for. The reason seems to be quite complicated," said the villager, reached by telephone.
"We are not allowed to say anything. It's not convenient for me to talk." he added.