BEIJING : A disabled Chinese man was jailed for six years Tuesday for setting off an explosion at Beijing’s international airport in protest at alleged police brutality, provoking a new outburst of public sympathy.
Ji Zhongxing, 34, who lost his left hand in the blast in July and appeared on a stretcher for both his trial and his sentence, was convicted of causing an explosion, Beijing’s court authorities said on a verified social media account.
Photos released by state media showed Ji in pyjamas, with his hands folded, his head shaved and a white blanket pulled up over his body.
He was flanked by two uniformed, white-gloved police officers who stood to attention on either side of the gurney.
Many online commenters expressed empathy for Ji, a former motorcycle driver who was confined to a wheelchair after reportedly being the victim of a brutal beating by police officers in the southern city of Dongguan in 2005.
Before detonating his homemade device, Ji passed out leaflets highlighting his struggle to sue authorities for the attack and warned passers-by to move away.
Ji had “lost all hope with society” following an unsuccessful battle for compensation, Hong Kong media reported previously, and analysts said the bombing spotlighted how frustration over low-level abuses in China can flare up.
But the court said Tuesday any actions to seek justice must be done in a “legal, rational and orderly manner”.
“People must not infringe others’ lawful rights or endanger public safety by taking extreme actions under the name of defending rights,” the city’s legal authorities said in a separate Sina Weibo post.
But Internet users were critical of the verdict and sentence, condemning China’s justice system.
“How many people on the bottom rung of society would choose to ‘defend their rights in a legal manner’? And have China’s bureaucrats and so-called laws defended their rights?” wrote one user under the court posting.
“Those who talk nonsense are either idealists or assisting the evildoers, or they are thugs backed by the powerful.”
Another user said: “(Ji) has been leading such a miserable life but (the court) bullies the weak instead of bringing his case to justice by stopping crimes at the point of origin. Isn’t it afraid of being punished by God?”
Analysts said that the six-year sentence was designed to tread a line between being too lenient and avoiding a renewed public backlash.
“Obviously, they gave him a safe jail term to emphasise the point that the state has zero tolerance of such acts of vengeance against the state,” said Willy Lam, a specialist in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He added that authorities probably “made the calculation that if the sentence were, say, more than 10 years, this would provoke not only a public outcry on the Internet, but also perhaps demonstrations”.
Kerry Brown, director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said that the sentence was a sign the party was looking to “send a message” that the rule of law was advancing in the country.
But he noted: “The sentence is the sentence, but how is he going to be treated? This prison’s in China, so it may well be that the sort of real punishment is the place he’s sent to.”
Academics have estimated that protests — about anything from abuse to corruption to pollution — top 180,000 a year in China, even as the government devotes vast sums to “stability maintenance”.
But legal paths for Chinese to pursue justice are limited.
Courts are subject to political influence and corruption, and a system meant to let citizens lodge complaints about authorities is ineffective, with petitioners routinely finding themselves detained.