BEIJING (AP) — Chinese courts announced multiple-year prison sentences Friday for more than three dozen military veterans who protested over the lack of benefits, saying the former soldiers had disrupted social order in a bid to further their own interests.

The announcements from the courts in the eastern provinces of Shandong and Jiangsu follow repeated demonstrations by veterans of various ages who say they haven’t been adequately compensated for their service.

Veterans have long been organizing quietly, but in recent years have staged attention-getting protests outside government offices and the defense ministry’s headquarters in Beijing that prompted the government to establish a Ministry of Veterans Affairs last year.

The 47 sentenced to up to six years had been involved in protests last year that involved hundreds of former soldiers.

China’s ruling Communist Party tightly restricts all public demonstrations and while it relies on the armed forces to maintain its hold on power, many veterans say they have been left to fend for themselves on meager pensions and little support.

Such complaints came to a head last year when more than 1,000 retired soldiers, including locals and many others who rushed in from around the country, descended on government offices in the eastern city of Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu province. For four days, they occupied a public plaza and a street, singing and chanting as they demanded answers over the alleged beating of a fellow veteran by government-hired thugs after he petitioned for better benefits, supporters said.

Scenes of paramilitary police and armored vehicles lining Zhenjiang’s streets further exacerbated the fraught relationship between the government and disgruntled veterans.