A Chinese truck driver was sentenced to death Wednesday for killing an ethnic Mongol herder by dragging him under his truck in a case that triggered Inner Mongolia's largest demonstrations in 20 years.
Li Lindong's sentence was read out at the end of his six-hour trial at the Intermediate People's Court in the region's Xilingol League, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Fellow driver Lu Xiangdong, who had been sitting in the cab of Li's truck when he drove over the herder, was also convicted of homicide and sentenced to life in prison, Xinhua said.
Two others, Wu Xiaowei and Li Minggang, were convicted of obstructing justice and given three-year sentences for having blocked police who arrived at the scene, allowing Li Lindong and Lu to escape.
The speed of the trial and severity of the sentences underscore authorities' sensitivity over the case and their desire to assuage Mongol demands for justice. Outcomes in such trials are usually a foregone conclusion, and proceedings are often shown on television as a public relations tool. Xinhua said 160 people attended the trial including relatives of the victim and the accused.
The herder, Mergen, who like many Mongols uses just one name, was killed on May 10 while he and others were blocking the road through their village to protest noise and pollution produced by coal trucks transiting the grasslands. Police said Li ran over Mergen and then dragged his body for 160 yards (145 meters) before he died.
His death and that of another Mongol in a clash with Chinese coal miners sparked protests across the sprawling northern pastureland by herders and students demanding justice and greater protection for Mongol culture and the nomadic herding lifestyle.
Mass migration to the region by members of China's majority Han ethnic group and a booming mining industry have placed traditional ways of life under severe pressure.
Protesters were reportedly detained by security forces, but there has been no official word on arrests.
China is the world's largest enforcer of the death penalty and is believed to execute more people each year than the rest of the world combined, although the actual figure is a state secret.