Chinese authorities in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong on Friday handed down sentences of up to six years' imprisonment to 18 People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans following mass protests in two cities last October.
Proceedings against the veterans—considered a politically sensitive group by the ruling Chinese Communist Party—have been shrouded in secrecy since, however.
Sentences ranging from suspended prison terms to jail terms of up to six years were handed down by courts in Jiangsu's Xuzhou city and Shandong's Weifang city on Friday.
The sentences were handed down by the Weicheng District People's Court in Weifang and the Tongshan District People's Court in Xuzhou, for public order offenses including "disrupting public order,"
"obstructing officials in the course of their duty," and "gathering a crowd to disturb public order," state news agency Xinhua reported.
In Weifang, Zhong Shifeng, Chen Jun and Wang Xiuqi were handed jail terms ranging from three to six years, while Yu Youfeng was jailed for four years and Wang Xuzhang for three years and six months for "disrupting public order" in Shandong's Pingdu city last October.
Meanwhile, defendants Hao Dongdai, Yang Xiaoqing, Ge Degao and Zhang Shanyan were handed sentences ranging from two years to two years and six months, the report said.
Yang Xiaoqing was handed a jail term suspended for three years, while Zhang Shanyan's sentence was suspended for three years. None of the nine defendants appealed, Xinhua said.
Xinhua said the defendants were accused of "falsely disseminating rumors" of police beatings of fellow veterans, and had committed crimes "under the banner of veterans."
In Xuzhou, the Tongshan court handed down jails terms ranging from two to four years to Bai Junguo, Gao Jianhui, Niu Weihao, Zhang Xiaolong, Li Xiangyang, Yin Yousheng and Jiang Cheng for "disrupting public order" during the Zhenjiang protests.
Wang Yihong received a suspended sentence on the same charge. Huang Ningjun, who "pushed a government worker into an artificial lake, causing minor injuries," was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence, suspended for four years.
None of the defendants appealed, and several were handed lighter or suspended sentences for "confessing" to the charges, and showing remorse for their actions, Xinhua said.
Thousands of military veterans converged on Shandong's Pingdu city last October for a weekend of protests over police beatings of their former comrades-in-arms.
Last June, authorities in Jiangsu struggled to contain growing protests in Zhenjiang by at least 1,000 veterans enraged at the beating of a fellow veteran.
Hundreds of former armed forces personnel clad in military-style clothing gathered on a major road in Zhenjiang, shouting slogans and waving national flags, in a major public show of strength following a mass protest outside the Central Military Commission in Beijing in October 2016.
Calls to Yu Youfeng's family members went unconnected on Friday.
A source close to the family, who gave only her surname Wang, said the authorities currently have all of the relatives of PLA veterans under close surveillance by "stability maintenance" officials.
She said the relatives weren't even informed that their loved ones had stood trial, and had been prevented from finding lawyers to represent them, with only lawyers appointed by the government allowed to act for them.
"They wouldn't let [Yu's wife] go, and they didn't even inform her," Wang said. "They didn't know what was happening; they knew nothing."
"The police told her she wasn't allowed to go," she said. "I told her to get a lawyer as quickly as possible, and she did, but the government had already allocated a lawyer to him."
Fear of reprisals
A Shandong-based veteran who requested anonymity said news of the case had only just appeared with the Xinhua article, and declined to comment for fear of reprisals.
"When everyone read that, after I posted it in the group chat, they didn't want to speak out," the veteran. "It should be I who contacts you from now on."
A veteran Chinese journalist surnamed Chen said the sentences were intended as a deterrent to further protests by PLA veterans, and had sown despair among many in the community.
"It will definitely scare off some of them, and make people more afraid to stand up for their rights if they are likely to face this kind of suppression," Chen said.
"However, some people will learn the true state of our society from this [case], and find other ways to stand up for their rights," he said. "I don't think that this sort of suppression will get to the root of the problem."
The government has repeatedly promised a boost to benefits and opportunities for veterans, but activists say local governments are simply failing to deliver.
Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.