Relatives abandon hope for villagers who challenged factories Nine villagers accused of taking part in a riot ag6ainst factory pollution in the village of Huaxi last year were sentenced by a court in Zhejiang province yesterday. Four were jailed, four received suspended sentences and one person who turned government witness was acquitted. In the heaviest sentence, the court in Lanxi handed Liu Huirong , 29, up to five years for assaulting police officers. Tensions in Huaxi erupted in the early hours of April 10 when about 1,500 police officers and government officials stormed the village in a surprise raid, knocking over straw barricades erected by villagers to stop delivery of raw materials to 13 chemical plants the residents say were built illegally, poisoning their crops and causing illnesses among residents. It is a case that has been repeated across the mainland as it races headlong to industrialisation within a weak legal framework. Villagers said officials from nearby Dongyang and Huaxi took their land in 2001 without consulting them and leased it to the plants. The riot in Huaxi, during which up to 30,000 villagers sent officials packing, turned into a whispered cause celebre on the mainland, which censored media coverage. Families and lawyers of the accused greeted the sentences with indignation. 'I'm furious,' said Wang Xiaofang , sister of Wang Liangping , 40, sentenced to 15 months in jail. 'My brother was in court as the verdict was read out and he's practically mute,' said Ms Wang, who says her brother is of below average intelligence after suffering meningitis as a child. 'I will appeal against the verdict, but the result will be the same. They just don't want to give us justice.' Liu's lawyer, Beijing-based Wei Rujiu , said he believed his client was punished for hiring the well-known advocate as his lawyer. Mr Wei led a group of Beijing-based lawyers who represented the Huaxi accused for free. He said he was coming under pressure from the authorities. 'The Zhejiang Judicial Bureau has complained to the Beijing Judicial Bureau, saying Beijing lawyers are creating social unrest. Maybe I will be forced to resign,' he said. Mr Wei works with King and Capital Lawyers. Mainland lawyers must register with their local judicial bureau, which can cancel the licences of those the government regards as troublesome. Wang Zhongliang and Wang Hongwei were sentenced to 18 and eight months jail respectively; while Wang Xiaopan , Lu Hongping , Jiang Yonggen and Wang Fagen received suspended jail terms of up to 17 months. Wang Xinwang was acquitted. All nine accused denied the charge of rioting and said they were tortured in custody. Neither the Lanxi court nor Dongyang officials were available for comment. Cases of rural unrest have been rising on the mainland in recent years. The number of 'mass incidents' - incidents involving more than 100 people - increased to 74,000 in 2004, compared to 58,000 the year before. The Zhejiang provincial government punished eight officials from Dongyang and Huaxi in December for failing to 'preserve social harmony'. Dongyang party secretary Tang Yong and mayor Chen Fengwei were sacked.