The Iraqi journalist thrust to instant fame when he threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush will go on trial this month on charges that risk up to 15 years in jail, a judge said on Monday.
“The investigation phase is over and the case has been transferred to the Central Criminal Court,” investigating judge Dhiya al-Kenani said. “The trial will start on Wednesday, December 31.”
Muntazer al-Zaidi stands accused of “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit,” an offense that carries a prison term of between five and 15 years under Iraqi law.
But the court could convict him of the lesser charge of an “attempted aggression” which carries a prison term of one to five years.
Zaidi, 29, became a hero to many when he threw his shoes at Bush during the US president’s surprise visit to Iraq on Dec. 14, an action considered a grave insult in the Arab world.
His lawyer had asked that the case against Zaidi be transferred from the central criminal court, which handles terrorism cases, to an ordinary tribunal but the judge refused.
“The fact he did not strike his target could serve in his favor,” Kenani said last week, alluding to the fact that Bush succeeded in ducking the shoes.
Zaidi’s actions were hailed by many in the Arab world who considered it an ideal parting gift to a deeply unpopular Bush.
The journalist for private Iraqi TV station Al-Baghdadia was wrestled to the ground by security guards after his actions and is now planning to sue over injuries caused, his lawyer Dhiya al-Saadi said on Sunday.
“There are bruises on his body. He has lost a tooth in his upper jaw, and his left eye is bloodshot,” the lawyer said, adding that the list of injuries is backed up by medical checks.
Kenani confirmed yesterday that a complaint had been lodged against the security guards and that a letter would be sent to the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in order to bring them to justice.
“Neither Muntazer, nor us, know their names but we may be able to recognize some of them from the television pictures,” he said.
For the first time on Sunday, one of Zaidi’s brothers Uday, was able to see his detained sibling.
His family has been demonstrating in a park near the Green Zone in central Baghdad to demand his release from custody but Uday al-Zaidi said they had been told to leave by security forces because they were in a sensitive area.
Uday said his brother had severe injuries, including a missing tooth and burns on his ears made by cigarettes.
Uday al-Zaidi said his brother intends to file suit related to the injuries, but did not have details on when it would be filed or who specifically it would name.
Maliki’s office said last week that al-Zaidi had written a letter of apology and asked him to recommend a pardon.
But Uday al-Zaidi said his brother told him the letter was written against his will because of torture during detention that included being doused with cold water while naked.
“He told me that he has no regret because of what he done and said that he would do it again if time went back,” Uday said by telephone.
The prime minister, meanwhile, claimed that al-Zaidi said in the letter that a known terrorist had induced him to throw the shoes.
“He revealed ... that a person provoked him to commit this act and that person is known to us for slitting throats,” al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister’s Web site.