China jails nine over protests in 'democracy' village

BEIJING (Reuters) - A court in southern China has handed out jail terms of up to 10 years to nine people from a Chinese fishing village once seen as a cradle of grassroots democracy after finding them guilty of illegal protests and other charges.

Wukan, in Guangdong province, erupted in renewed protest in September. Unrest had rumbled on since June after the arrest of a popular leader who was finally jailed in October for corruption, charges widely disputed in Wukan.

The village received international attention when a 2011 uprising over land grabs forced authorities in Communist Party-ruled China to back down and grant local direct elections.

The Haifeng County court said in a statement late on Monday the nine had been jailed for crimes including illegal demonstrations, disturbing traffic and intentionally spreading false information.

The court did not specify sentences for individuals, but said the sentences ranged from two years to 10 years in jail.

An indictment from the same court earlier this month said their crimes occurred between June and September this year.

While low-level democratic experiments have been tried in villages across China, Wukan’s took place in the glare of both domestic and international publicity, and marked a rare moment when Communist Party officials backed down in the face of protest.

Beijing leaders are fearful of growing calls for democracy and losing their grip on power. Weeks of “umbrella revolution” pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, to the southwest of Wukan, in 2014 presented Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges in decades.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait