UK activists back Iraqi shoe thrower

By staff

UK human rights activists have backed Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the man who threw a shoe at George Bush, as his trial begins in Baghdad.

“Mr al-Zaidi did not physically harm anyone or cause any damage – only embarrassment to President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki,” said Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner and Green party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.

“Causing embarrassment should not be a crime. To prosecute him for this protest is petty and disproportionate; unbefitting Iraq’s new democratic politics.”

Norwich Green councillor Rupert Read, the party’s lead candidate for the Eastern Region in the June 2009 European parliament elections, recently posted his shoes to Mr Bush and Gordon Brown in an act of solidarity with Mr al-Zaidi.

“Let’s keep this man, with whom so many of us sympathise, out of jail,” Mr Read said today.

“The case against him should be withdrawn. Given the beatings he has suffered in prison, Muntadhar deserves his immediate freedom.”

Mr al-Zaidi faces a 15-year jail sentence if he is convicted on charges of assaulting a foreign leader.

After asking for Mr al-Zaidi’s handcuffs to be removed after he entered the Baghdad courtroom, trial judge Faiq al-Zaidan adjourned the case until March 12th.

Mr al-Zaidi, 30, threw two shoes at outgoing US president Mr Bush last December at a press conference with Mr al-Maliki, both of which sailed over the president’s head.

The incident brought instant cult status around the Arab world for the journalist from Cairo’s Baghdadia Iraqi television but also immediate detention and, reportedly, several beatings at the hands of prison guards.

He was greeted by cheering crowds as he arrived at court today with an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders. Despite allegations from his family that he had been severely beaten in prison, Mr al-Zaidi appeared fit and healthy, witnesses said.

“This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” the journalist had said as he threw his first shoe at President Bush.

“This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” he said as he threw the second shoe, before being bundled to the ground by another journalist and dragged out by White House security personnel.

“It’s a way for people to draw attention,” Mr Bush said of the incident. “I don’t know what the guy’s cause was. I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it.”

In the aftermath of the incident, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez offered Mr al-Zaidi and his family sanctuary, a Lebanese TV station offered him a job with payment commencing from the moment the first shoe was thrown and a Saudi businessmen offered $10 million to buy the shoes in question.