Iraqi Shoe Thrower Still In Jail

Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi has been in jail since he threw his shoe at President Bush last December. His trial, previously set to begin Dec. 31, was postponed so an appellate court can consider a motion to reduce his charges. Kim Gamel, Associated Press Iraq news editor, talks about the case.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

So what about that Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush back in December? He is Muntadar al-Zaidi and he's been in jail ever since.

For an update we've called Kim Gamel with the Associated Press in Baghdad.

And Kim, what's the latest?

Ms. KIM GAMEL (Associated Press): Well, the latest is that nothing much has changed. Al-Zaidi has been in custody since Iraqi guards wrestled him to the ground shortly after the incident. He's being held in a jail cell in the Green Zone in Baghdad. His family and lawyers have complained that they haven't been able to see him very often. After the complaints became public his brother was allowed to pay him a visit. And his brother says that he's in good shape right now, that his wounds appear to have healed, and that his guards even threw him a birthday party for his 30th birthday. They brought in a cake to celebrate.

BLOCK: You mentioned that his wounds had healed. There had been reports from the family that Mr. Al-Zaidi had been tortured after he had thrown these shoes, that he was missing a tooth, he had cigarette burns and bruises.

Ms. GAMEL: That's right. It's not clear if he was tortured in detention. But he was, according to many reports, severely beaten at the scene after these shoes throwing incident. The case's investigating judge has said he was struck about the face and the eyes. And that's the closest that we can come to official confirmation of this.

BLOCK: And has he had access to a lawyer?

Ms. GAMEL: Well, he had access to a lawyer in late December. But the lawyer hasn't been able to see him since then. They tried to hold a trial shortly after the incident. And he was charged with a very harsh charge of assaulting a foreign leader. That would have carried a 15 year prison sentence. His lawyer successfully got the trial delayed so that he could try to reduce the charges to simply insulting a leader. So the lawyer is hoping to see him before that trial is held.

BLOCK: And what would the potential sentence for that charge be?

Ms. GAMEL: He would be in jail for about two years.

BLOCK: There had been reports sometime back that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said he'd gotten a letter from Muntadar al-Zaidi saying that he had been induced to throw his shoes at President Bush by a known militant. Is there any more information on that or on that letter?

Ms. GAMEL: Al-Maliki did say he received that letter and the family of al-Zaidi vehemently denied that. And it's impossible to confirm, but the government did step back from continuing to talk about that letter. I do have to say that while al-Zaidi is deeply popular in Iraq for what he did, the one Iraqi who is not happy with the action is al-Maliki.

BLOCK: And the prime minister was standing right alongside President Bush when this happened.

Ms. GAMEL: That's right. Al-Zaidi actually said that he apologized to the prime minister. He says he didn't mean any offense to him, that he didn't want to miss his chance to send Bush a message.

BLOCK: There have been reports also that Muntadar al-Zaidi actually was allowed to vote in provincial elections. Have you heard that?

Ms. GAMEL: We did hear those reports. They were on Arabic TV stations. Detainees in Iraq were allowed to cast ballots. They had a special round of voting for them, and they were able to fill their ballots and then give them to their guards. So presumably al-Zaidi would have been given that chance, and Arabic TV stations said that he took it. I have to say, though, his brother denies that he would have voted. He says nobody in the family voted because they don't support the government or the political process here.

BLOCK: Do you know whether Muntadar al-Zaidi has any idea of the international phenomenon that he's become since this attack?

Ms. GAMEL: Well, his brother, who visited him recently, actually told him about it. And his brother says - and this is the only way that we have information about him, of course - that it was the first that he had heard of all the support that he had received. And his brother says that he cried.

BLOCK: We've been talking with Kim Gamel with the Associated Press in Baghdad about what's happened to the Iraqi shoe thrower, Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush back in December.

Thanks very much, Kim.

Ms. GAMEL: Thanks, Melissa.

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