Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Tempers flare as Iraqi shoe-thrower is jailed

AFP , BAGHDAD

“This is an American court, you sons of dogs,” screamed the brother of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who was jailed for three years on Thursday for hurling his shoes at former US president George W. Bush.

Family members who had been waiting nervously outside the court for the verdict began to scream and cry, some falling to their knees as word of the decision swept the Central Criminal Court building like wildfire.

“This is an American court. There is not an honorable man among you,” screamed Dunya, one of Zaidi’s sisters, her face contorted with anger as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Zaidi’s family, many of them women wearing conservative long black abaya, marched around crying and ululating, as security guards struggled to maintain control.

Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie had opened proceedings with Zaidi hoping to have the charges reduced from the full charge of assaulting a foreign head of state.

But Rubaie said ministers had determined that Bush was on an official visit to Iraq, so Zaidi would therefore face the more serious charge for throwing his shoes at the then serving president on Dec. 14.

Zaidi, whose shoe-hurling gesture is considered a grave insult, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, at that point risked up to 15 years in jail. But he was handed a three-year term.

The trial had first opened on Feb. 19, but was adjourned for three weeks to determine the status of Bush’s farewell trip.

Before the packed court room of journalists, lawyers and family members, the judge asked Zaidi if he was innocent.

“Yes, my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi [would have done],” came the reply from the 30-year-old journalist.

Wearing a khaki suit, brown-striped shirt and thin-framed glasses, Zaidi had been led into the packed courtroom under a heavy police escort. He held his chin high as he sat in the dock.

Events took a turn for the worse when newly appointed lawyer Tareq Hab walked out after having not been allowed to finish his statement. The judge said he had already seen it.

Chief defense lawyer Ehiya al-Sadi then argued his client’s motives were “honorable” and the action had expressed his feelings over the suffering of Iraqis since the US-led invasion of 2003.

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