A Nicaraguan military court judge on Friday sentenced an army lieutenant to 3½ months in prison for criticizing the armed forces' role in cracking down on civilians during protests against a Chinese company's project to build a canal across the country.

Judge Efrain Garcia issued the sentence for conduct unbecoming an officer against the lieutenant, an army doctor.

Lt. Yader Montiel Meza was serving at a medical post when he was arrested Jan. 8 for suggesting the military acted improperly by breaking up a Christmas Eve protest by hundreds of farmers opposed to the canal. Dozens of protesters and five police officers were injured.

Gonzalo Carrion of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center criticized the verdict, saying it was intended to limit freedom of expression.