Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have handed down jail terms of up to 10 years to nine residents of the rebel village of Wukan following months of mass protests earlier in the year.
Wei Yonghan, Yang Jinzhen, Hong Yongzhong, Wu Fang, Zhuang Songkun, Cai Jialin, Li Chulu, Chen Suzhuan, and Zhang Bingchai stood trial on Dec. 17, mostly on a variety of public order charges, former Wukan resident Zhuang Liehong told RFA.
They were handed prison sentences in on Monday ranging from two to 10 years, he said.
Prosecutors said fellow protester Zhang Bingchai had "published false information via WeChat and manufactured rumors, which had a deleterious effect in the community."
Wei Yonghan and Yang Jinzhen were found guilty of "organizing and inciting the villagers of Wukan to attend illegal meetings, demonstrations."
Wei was also convicted of inciting villagers and "other members of the public" to confrontation with police, throwing stones and bricks at them, and injuring police officers on duty.
Meanwhile, protesters Li Chulu, Cai Jialin, and Zhuang Songkun "rode their motorcycles to intercept passing vehicles, causing serious disruption to traffic," according to an indictment notice issued by the Haifeng District People's Court, which tried them.
Zhuang, whose father Zhuang Songkun received a three-year jail term, said full details of the other sentences weren't easily available, as the trial had been held behind closed doors.
"These are harsh sentences issued by the authorities to make an example of Wukan," Zhuang said on Tuesday. "They want other villages to see and take note, and they want the central government to think well of them."
"I feel very low and downhearted right now, because I think these sentences are a form of political persecution," he said. "They want to make sure the villagers of Wukan remain cowed, so they don't come out in protest ever again."
But he said he is still considering ways to continue to protest the fate of Wukan from his base in the United States.
Zhang Shuijin, the incumbent ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary for Wukan village, said life in the village, which saw protesters hold off lines of riot police with bricks and stones for a second time last September, is entirely back to normal.
"Everything is very quiet right now," Zhang said. "This might not be a great thing for the villagers, but it's very good for security."
"The village is going about its business in a normal manner, and I can't really say answer your question [about whether further protests are likely]," he said.
A Wukan resident contacted by RFA on Tuesday declined to comment.
"I don't know about this," the villager said. "I don't know anything at all ... I won't say any more."
A second Wukan resident gave a similar response.
"I don't know anything about this," she said, before hanging up.
More protests expected
Constitutional scholar and former People's Congress deputy Yao Lifa said he still expects further protests from Wukan.
"I don't think the people of Wukan will let this go," Yao said. "They are in a very difficult situation right now, at a very low ebb, but I think they care even more about democracy than they do about the land."
"The elections for the village leadership are very closely tied up with their interests," he said.
More than 70 people were detained in the village after riot police fired tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets in a massive dawn raid on Sept. 13 that put an end to any overt opposition in the village.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 riot police stormed Wukan, which is administered by nearby Lufeng city.
According to Zhuang Liehong, a second group of 13 defendants is currently awaiting trial at a detention center in Lufeng county.
Wukan villagers have been campaigning for the return of land sold out from under them by former village chief Xue Chang, who was fired for corruption after an earlier round of protests and clashes in 2011, sparking fresh elections that saw Lin Zuluan take the helm.
But even Lin and his newly-elected village committee found it hard to secure the return of the land amid powerful vested interests, political changes higher up, and a tangle of complex legal issues.
September's raid by police on Wukan came after a court in Guangdong's Foshan city sentenced Lin to more than three years' imprisonment on "bribery" charges that local residents said were trumped up.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.