Shoe-thrower goes on trial
The Iraqi journalist who made headlines when he threw his shoes at former US president George W. Bush goes on trial on Thursday charged with assaulting a foreign leader.
Muntazer al-Zaidi faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, but his legal team will ask for the charge to be thrown out and for the reporter to be freed.
"He should be released because he was only expressing himself and protesting against the occupation," Zaidi's lawyer Dhiya al-Saadi told AFP on Tuesday.
Bush, who orderd the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, was on a farewell visit to the country when Zaidi threw his shoes during a Baghdad press conference on 14 December.
Zaidi (30) who works for the Al-Baghdadia television channel, also insulted Bush, shouting: "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," in an action that was hailed across the Arab world.
Bush managed to duck, and after the shoes whizzed past his head joked with reporters that they were a "size 10".
A 25-strong defence team has been preparing the defence of Zaidi, whose gesture is considered a grave insult in the Arab and Muslim world.
If they fail to get the charges dropped they will argue that the journalist did not try to kill Bush and was entitled to make a protest about the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
"We will present our demands on the day of the trial," Saadi said. "The journalist only wanted to express his opinion," insisting that the law under which Zaidi is charged is not applicable to his case.
The charge of assaulting a foreign leader carries a prison term of between five to 15 years, but Saadi said the reporter should be freed because the shoes did not constitute a "lethal weapon" and could not have killed Bush.
Judicial authorities had the option of dismissing the charge, or have altered it to a lesser one of "attempted aggression" which carries a prison term of one to five years.
The case will be heard at the Central Criminal Court, which is responsible for terrorism cases and is located in the Green Zone, the heavily-protected area of Baghdad where the government and some Western embassies are located.
A judge in December rejected allegations by the journalist's family that he had been tortured in custody, charges that were levelled after his brother was allowed to visit him in prison.
The incident inspired a British student, Alex Tew, to create a "Sock and Awe" (www.sockandawe.com) shoe-throwing website which says it has so far had more than 86 million hits in the face of ex-president Bush on the Internet.
Other journalists at Al-Baghdadia, who asked not to be named, told AFP that Zaidi, who was abducted by insurgents during the sectarian strife that engulfed Iraq in the wake of the US invasion, should not be punished.
"He did not want to say goodbye to Bush in a traditional way, so he said farewell in his own way," said one of the reporter's colleagues.
"I feel that what he did was a national gesture to lift the sorrow of children and widows."
Another Al-Baghdadia journalist added: "Muntazer al-Zaidi is a quiet, respectful and educated person and a professional in every sense of the word. He does not deserve to be sentenced and should not be put on trial."
Only five to fifteen years?!?! This man showed a tremendous amount of disrespect for the man who liberated him from tyranny. I don't know about you, but in my book, ingratitude is one of the worst crimes there is. Without President Bush, Iraq would be a cesspool of violence and repression and WMDs.
I urge all of my loyal readers to write letters (they don't have e-mail in Iraq yet) to this judge, begging him to impose the maximum sentence to send a message to all the world: Disrespect of authority figures can never be tolerated, PERIOD.