A wheelchair-bound Chinese man, who was reported to have been petitioning authorities for justice after suffering police abuse, detonated an explosive device at the arrivals area of Beijing airport on Saturday evening.

The official Xinhua news agency said “a disabled person ignited bombs on himself” using fireworks and gunpowder, at 6.24 pm local time, adding that the explosion, which left the arrivals area covered with smoke and dust, caused no casualties or injuries to bystanders.

Police authorities identified the man as Ji Zhongxing, a 39-year-old from northeastern Shandong province, adding that he was receiving treatment for his injuries.

Citing a police probe, Xinhua reported that Mr. Ji carried out the explosion after he was “stopped from handing out leaflets to get attention to his complaints”.

Similar incidents of aggrieved citizens carrying out explosions have been reported in China, most notably in May 2011 when farmer Qian Mingqi protested the loss of his land by exploding three home-made bombs targeting local government offices in southern Jiangxi province. Like Mr. Ji, Qian had, for many years, petitioned authorities to address his grievances but had failed to have his case heard.

Saturday’s case, however, received particularly wide attention as it not only took place in one of the most secure areas of the nation’s capital, but it was also almost immediately reported widely as witnesses began posting dozens of photographs on social media websites.

Photographs were, within minutes, widely shared on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo, which has more than 500 million users, showing a wheelchair-bound Mr. Ji holding aloft a white packet minutes before the explosion.

Chinese media reports said Mr. Ji had been petitioning authorities for justice after he had been beaten by police and left paralysed. He was reported to have been working as an unlicenced taxi driver in Shandong.

A blog entry which some Chinese media reports identified as having been penned by Mr. Ji – the blog was subsequently deleted later on Saturday evening – described how his endless efforts at seeking justice from authorities led him nowhere and left him hopeless and in a state of desperation.

The incident on Saturday ignited a wide debate on Chinese social media websites, with many expressing some sympathy for Mr. Ji.

“Each one who has received unfair treatment in this country is a ticking time-bomb,” wrote commentator Zuo Yeben to his more than 6.5 million followers on Weibo. The message was forwarded more than 10,000 times within only two hours.

Some Weibo posts referencing Mr. Ji’s blog and his past were deleted by censors later on Saturday evening, although most photographs and posts about the explosion were left up on the site.

In China, citizens aggrieved by the local government are allowed to petition central authorities in Beijing for their cases to be addressed. Many petitioners, however, often fail to have their cases heard, as they are usually harassed and detained by provincial police forces who aim to prevent them from presenting their cases to higher authorities.

Local officials often illegally persecute and imprison petitioners because having grievances conveyed to the central government could diminish their promotion prospects.

Many legal scholars and social scientists in China have, consequently, called for reforming the system. They have argued that as petitioning does not address the roots of social conflicts, lower-level courts, which are usually under the tight control of local Party officials, should instead be given more independence to resolve cases at the grassroots.

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