BEIJING - A Chinese court on Thursday condemned a man to die for burning a farmer to death and injuring three others in a land dispute last year.
Wang Yuefu was asked by local officials in Pingdu to "intimidate" villagers protesting over compensation for rural land sold by authorities to a property developer, said the Qingdao Intermediate People's Court.
Brutal land seizures and forced evictions of villagers by local officials making way for development have become a major source of social resentment in China, sometimes triggering unrest.
The farmers in Pingdu, in the eastern province of Shandong, wanted the local government to give them all the 15.27 million yuan (S$3.4 million) the developer had paid, the court said, while officials insisted most of the money should be reserved for social security purposes.
The villagers mounted a round-the-clock protest at the site, and in March 2014, Wang hired four thugs to set their tent on fire, killing one and injuring another three, the court said in a posting on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.
Wang was convicted of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" and arson and was sentenced to death, the court said.
"He has extremely malicious intentions and poses a great threat to human safety," it said.
The village official who plotted the offence with Wang was sentenced to life in prison while five other accomplices, including the four who carried out the attack, were given terms of six to 19 years, it added.
A 2012 survey by US advocacy group Landesa found that more than 20 per cent of farmers were never compensated when their land was sold, while others were on average paid "a fraction of the mean price authorities themselves received".
Under current Chinese law, only the government has the power to appropriate land.
But the central government has announced it will carry out a trial programme that may allow farmers to sell land, which experts say would enable them to realise value from their assets and could reduce clashes between local governments and rural residents.