An Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at US President George W. Bush in Baghdad last month is to seek political asylum in Switzerland, a Geneva lawyer told the daily La Tribune de Geneve yesterday.
Muntazer al-Zaidi gained instant international fame when he threw his shoes at Bush during the US president’s farewell visit to Iraq on Dec. 14, an action considered a grave insult in the Arab world.
“At the beginning of the month his family contacted me via the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and I shall write this week to the federal department [ministry] of foreign affairs to encourage Switzerland to grant him political asylum,” lawyer Mauro Poggia told the paper.
Switzerland could give him asylum “without taking a position for or against the American intervention in Iraq,” he said.
Zaidi, a 29-year-old journalist for the Al-Baghdadia TV channel, had been due to appear before Iraq’s Central Criminal Court on Dec. 31 on charges of “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit” and he faced up to 15 years in jail if convicted.
But the court decided to postpone the trial pending an appeal to a higher tribunal.
Even if many Iraqis supported his action, Zaidi was “at the mercy of all manner of extremists,” the lawyer said, adding: “He can no longer work as a journalist without suffering terrible pressure … his life can become hell in his country.”
Once settled in Geneva, the bachelor without children could “very well work as a journalist at the United Nations,” which has its European headquarters in Geneva, Poggia said.
After throwing his shoes at Bush, Zaidi also insulted the American president, shouting: “It is the farewell kiss, you dog.”
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed a campaign manager for a major Sunni party near the northern city of Mosul on Sunday, the latest sign that ethnic and sectarian tensions are rising ahead of this month’s provincial elections.
Police said the attacker detonated his explosives inside the reception area of Hassan al-Luheibi’s home in Qayara, 60km south of Mosul, after saying he had pressing business to discuss.
Bodyguards kept the bomber from going inside, but al-Luheibi emerged from the inner rooms to investigate the commotion and was killed in the blast, Colonel Safaa Abdul-Razzaq said. Two guards also were wounded, he said.
However, a police officer at the scene later said a fellow policeman was also killed in the attack and three others — including two policemen — were wounded. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to news media.