BEIJING - A Chinese court on Friday sentenced four government workers to between three and a half and 11 years' jail over a dispute that left a roadside vendor dead, state media reported, unleashing fresh accusations of official privilege.
The death of 56-year-old watermelon seller Deng Zhengjia in July in the central province of Hunan - which domestic media blamed on the local enforcement officers, or "chengguan", but the county government said happened spontaneously - had triggered public fury over perceived abuse of power.
Four chengguan convicted of intentional injury over the event received sentences of three and a half, four, six and 11 years, the official news agency Xinhua said on a social media account.
Local media reported at the time that six chengguan were initially detained, and that officers beat Deng to death for operating without a licence, with one smashing the vendor's head with a metal measuring weight.
But a news portal linked to the government of Linwu county, where the incident took place, said Deng suddenly fell to the ground during the confrontation and died.
Users of Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, lambasted the verdict as unfairly lenient and protecting government employees.
"They take a life but don't pay with a life, they are all people but their lives are not treated the same! But this is China, where things are not done according to logic," one wrote.
"Too light! If the victim were related to an official I'm not sure this would be the sentence," said another.
Chengguan, who are tasked with enforcing local government regulations, have gained particular notoriety for abusing their power, although officials at all levels have been targets of scorn.
National leaders have repeatedly pledged this year to crack down on what they acknowledge is widespread corruption and to bolster the rule of law.
China's judiciary remains subject to strict political control.