Prison terms for Dongzhou rioters
But chief who ordered police to open fire only sacked
Twelve residents of Guangdong's Dongzhou village were yesterday jailed for up to seven years for their roles in a bloody demonstration last December.
The sentences contrast with penalties handed to the police whose actions left at least three villagers dead - the chief who ordered officers to open fire was sacked and three other senior law-enforcement officials reprimanded.
Seven of the 19 villagers who stood trial on Monday in Haifeng - which like Dongzhou also falls under the jurisdiction of Shanwei - were acquitted, said a villager who attended the trial.
The villagers were convicted of illegally manufacturing explosives, illegal assembly and disturbing public order, their relatives said.
Villagers Huang Xirang, Lin Hanru and Huang Xijun, previously described as the riots' ringleaders, were jailed for seven, six and five years respectively. Others received three- to four-year terms, and some were given suspended sentences, said the villager, whose husband was given four years.
A Haifeng court worker said she was not aware of the sentences and hung up. The verdicts were handed down as media reports announced the punishments handed to the law enforcement officials held responsible for the shootings.
A former vice-director of the Shanwei Public Security Bureau, Wu Sheng, was given a 'stern internal warning' and fired after an investigation into the incident, the Guangzhou Daily reported. Mr Wu was previously identified by official media as the senior officer who mishandled the riot and gave orders to open fire on the villagers.
Shanwei vice-party secretary Liu Jinsheng, in charge of law and order in the city, was reprimanded, while police chief and Vice-Mayor Li Min and Construction Bureau director Chen Huinan were warned.
Dongzhou villagers and activist Li Jian, who helped villagers with legal matters, criticised the punishment handed to the officials and alleged there was a cover-up.
Mr Li said he could not accept the results of the investigation because it was conducted by local authorities, not the central government. 'The findings of the investigation kill Dongzhou villagers a second time,' he said.
The comparatively light punishment for officials and heavy penalties for villagers showed 'utter disregard for human lives' and 'treated people's lives like weeds', Mr Li said, adding that he weak penalties would not stop officials committing further crimes and trampling on people's rights.
He also accused local authorities of preventing the defendants' relatives from hiring lawyers.
The riots and subsequent violent suppression came when villagers protested against the seizure of their land and a lake for a coal-fired power plant. On December 6, police opened fire, leaving three villagers dead and eight injured.