ASUNCIóN, Paraguay, July 12 (UPI) -- Eleven Paraguayan subsistence farmers convicted of killing six police officers during land reform protests in 2012 were sentenced to up to 30 years in jail.
Four men received sentences between 18 and 30 years, while seven other men and women were sentenced between four and six years. Five of the convicted farmers had previously gone on hunger strike for more than a month.
In 2012, about 70 subsistence farmers occupied a property belonging to Campos Morumbi, an agricultural company, during an agrarian reform protest over unequal land distribution in Paraguay. The Paraguayan government deployed about 250 riot police to clear the protesters but a gunfight ensued. Eleven protesters were killed along with the six police officers.
The incident fueled political tensions in Paraguay, leading to the impeachment of populist Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo -- an impeachment often characterized as a coup d'état by leftist governments in South America. The Paraguayan government did not investigate the deaths of the farmers, fueling accusations of bias.
The convicted farmers, known as campesinos in Paraguay, have been compared to political prisoners. Land reform is one of the most critical issues in Paraguay.
"The attorney general is only there to deliver justice to those who pay and to condemn campesinos," Mariano Castro, father of two of the farmers facing prison, said last week during a rally, TeleSUR reported. "It's all too clear for us, the campesinos, how this institution is run ... it's used politically ... That's why we all have to wake up and organize ourselves and take these institutions back from those who warm the seats and receive orders from above."
Protesters have called on President Horacio Cartes to resign.
In Paraguay, less than 3 percent of landowners hold nearly 86 percent of Paraguay's land. About 91 percent of farmers who own properties smaller than 50 acres own about 7 percent of agricultural land.