Iraqi Shoe Thrower Gets Three Years

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush last year was given a three-year prison sentence Thursday by a Baghdad court. Lawyers for Muntadar al-Zaidi say they will appeal the sentence.

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Perhaps the most famous journalist in Iraq has been sentenced to three years in prison by an Iraqi court. Muntadar al-Zeidi shot to fame in the Arab world and elsewhere after he threw both his shoes at President Bush last year.

NPR Baghdad correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was at the courthouse today, and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: When the judge announced the sentence, Muntadar al-Zeidi shouted, long live Iraq. He was then led away, waving and smiling to cries of, you are a hero, from supporters. His family, though, reacted with grief and anger, scuffling with court security outside the courtroom.

(Soundbite of crying)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zeidi's mother cried over and over, my son, what was your crime, my beloved son? His brother Uday al-Zeidi denounced the court.

Mr. UDAY AL-ZEIDI: (Through Translator) I say the Iraqi judicial system is not independent. It is subject to political pressure. It was under President Bush's orders that my brother was sentenced.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: U.S. Embassy officials were present at today's trial. They refused to be interviewed, only saying that they were there to observe and were not exerting pressure on the court. Zeidi's defense team argued that the journalist was defending his country when he acted, that he was provoked by a smiling President Bush into avenging the Iraqi people, that even the American president exonerated him because President Bush said Zeidi's act was a manifestation of Iraq's new freedom of expression.

But the court found him guilty of assaulting a head of state. He could've faced up to 15 years in prison. The three-year sentence was considered light by Iraqi legal experts. The court of public opinion on the Iraqi street, though, mostly took a different view. Ali-Majid Hasan(ph) is 29 years old.

Mr. ALI MAJID HASAN: (Through Translator) He was not guilty. His love for his country was what made him do it. He did this to defend the Iraqis, the martyrs and the widows. I wish that all Iraqi people would become like him, to force the invaders from our home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Muntadar al-Zeidi has been widely celebrated in the Middle East, where President Bush was hugely unpopular. In Iraq, after the incident, a car-sized statue of Zeidi's shoe was erected in an orphanage in Tikrit. Thousands of orders of similar-looking shoes were also placed at cobblers across the country.

Men offered Zeidi their daughters' hands in marriage. Still, some, including the Iraqi government, viewed Zeidi's actions as an embarrassment. Throwing one's shoes at someone is considered one of the highest insults in the Muslim world. Nineteen-year old Mohammed Mofaq(ph) says Zeidi deserved the sentence.

Mr. MOHAMMED MOFAQ: (Through Translator) This is unacceptable in our tribal tradition. When a guest comes to your home, you should respect him, not insult him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Already, several members of parliament have asked the prime minister to pardon Zeidi. His lawyers say Zeidi's sentence will be appealed.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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Iraqi Shoe-Thrower Gets Three Years In Prison

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at then-President George W. Bush during a December visit to Baghdad has been sentenced to three years in prison.

A three-judge panel convicted Muntadhar al-Zeidi of assaulting a foreign leader. The 30-year-old journalist had pleaded not guilty to assault, saying his actions were in response to the occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops. In the Arab world, throwing shoes at a person is a grave insult.

When the sentence was imposed, defense lawyers said Zeidi shouted, "Long live Iraq!"

Some of his relatives collapsed after the ruling was issued and had to be helped out of the courthouse. Others were forcibly removed by guards after shouting "down with Bush!" and "long live Iraq!"

"This judiciary is not just," Zeidi's brother, Dargham, said tearfully after the verdict was announced.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who witnessed the assault, said the incident was an embarrassment to the country. But many Iraqis consider Zeidi a hero.

Zeidi has been in Iraqi custody since the incident at the Dec. 14, 2008, news conference. Bush ducked to avoid being hit and was not injured. The journalist was quickly wrestled to the ground by guards and dragged away.

Attorneys for Zeidi said they would appeal the verdict.

From NPR and wire reports

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