By Sui-Lee Wee and Maxim Duncan
BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese man in a wheelchair who detonated a home-made bomb in Beijing‘s airport after trying to draw attention to a nearly decade-long legal battle was sentenced to six years in jail, his lawyer said on Tuesday, sparking widespread sympathy and anger.
A Beijing court found Ji Zhongxing, 34, guilty of intentionally causing an explosion, Ji’s lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, told Reuters by telephone. State media confirmed the sentence.
Ji detonated the bomb at Beijing airport in July after being prevented from handing out leaflets that drew attention to his complaints. His case struck a chord with many Chinese seeking justice in an inflexible political system.
Ji, from eastern Shandong province, had been seeking redress for a claimed beating by police in southern Guangdong province dating back to 2005 that left him wheelchair-bound. He had been petitioning for justice ever since.
Detonating the bomb at Beijing’s main airport ensured widespread exposure for Ji, even though he and a policeman who received slight wounds were the only people hurt.
He faced a maximum sentence of 10 years.
“We believe that this verdict is questionable,” Liu said, adding that Ji did not intend to blow up the airport or commit suicide.
“During the trial, (authorities) did not seek to find out the facts,” Liu said. “Although it was mentioned in the verdict statement, they never fully considered or discovered the cause of the bombing at the airport.”
Liu said Ji, who was wheeled into court on a stretcher, would consider appealing against the decision. He has 10 days to file an appeal.
Ji’s weeping father, Ji Darong, slumped on the ground near the court and suggested to reporters there would likely be an appeal against what he described as “this injustice”.
“We refuse to accept this,” said Ji Zhongji, Ji Zhongxing’s brother. “In Guangdong he was beaten and nobody did anything for eight years. Shouldn’t they investigate that?”
Ji’s sentence comes weeks after the execution of a Chinese kebab vendor, who was convicted of killing two city officials, sparked public criticism of a justice system said to punish the poor harshly while letting the rich and powerful off more lightly.
Dozens of police officers stood guard outside the courthouse and cordoned off a large area, preventing his supporters from massing outside as they had done during Ji’s trial in September.
Zhao Min, a petitioner from northern Hebei province, said she supports Ji “because he’s a disabled person who tried to push forward fairness in the legal system”.
“He only did it because he had no alternative,” Zhao told reporters outside the courthouse. “Because he couldn’t get any resolution through legally petitioning many times.”
Authorities in Guangdong have at least promised to look again into Ji’s original complaint, according to state media, a rare concession.
“What we want to know more is: How will those assailants who injured him in the first place be punished?” Chen Haodong, vice dean of an art school in southern Guangdong province, wrote on his microblog.
Chinese unable to win redress for grievances have in the past resorted to extreme measures, including bombings, but such incidents are rare because of tight state security.
(Additional reporting by Li Hui and the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait)