March 13, 2009

Shoe trial ends with 3 year sentence for Baghdad Clogger

Terrible news this. Muntazer al-Zaidi, the man who threw his shoes at George Bush, has been given a 3 year sentence. From almost any point of view you'd have expected them to let him go and slip back into obscurity but this has been a show trial and Iraq has just failed an early test of democracy. The guy, I suppose, technically committed an assault - the charge was "assaulting a foreign head of state" - but no one got hit and if they did they wouldn't have got hurt, and look how he presented his case in court. This is from the Guardian's Michael Howard:
Zaidi's trial had begun on 19 February but was adjourned until yesterday as the judges considered a defence argument that the charge was not applicable because Bush was not in Baghdad on an official visit, having arrived unannounced without an invitation. Rubaie read a response from Maliki's office that said the visit had been official. Thus Zaidi would be tried under article 223 of the Iraqi penal code - dating from the Saddam era - which outlaws assaults on foreign leaders.

The chief defence lawyer, Dhia al-Saadi, demanded the charge be dismissed, saying that the case was one of insult not assault. His client's action "was an expression of freedom and does not constitute a crime". "It was an act of throwing a shoe and not a rocket," he said. "It was meant as an insult to the occupation."

Saadi cited the immediate reaction of the target of Zaidi's flying shoes, President Bush, as evidence of the lightness of the offence. After ducking behind a lectern, Bush had joked that he believed Zaidi wore a size 10, and added: "That's what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves." He had not felt "in the least bit threatened", Bush had said. It was all to no avail.

After a 15-minute adjudication period, the court was cleared of all spectators, and Zaidi was handed a three-year prison sentence. His relatives erupted in anger, shouting that the decision was unjust and unfair. Some collapsed and had to be helped from the court. Others were forcibly removed by security forces as they shouted "down with Bush" and "long live Iraq".

"This judiciary is not just," Zaidi's brother Dargham said. Another brother, Uday, said the verdict was politically motivated. The journalist's sister, Ruqaiya, burst into tears, shouting: "Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans." Zaidi's lawyers said he would appeal against the sentence.

If the Iraqi authorities were hoping to draw a line under the affair they are probably in for a shock. While some Iraqi officials regarded Zaidi's actions as an insult to the Iraqi state and he was criticised by fellow Iraqi journalists, who said he had allowed his emotions to overcome his professionalism, many ordinary Iraqis said he had already served his punishment and should be released. A poll released yesterday, commissioned by ABC News and the BBC, suggested 62% of Iraqis regard the shoe-thrower as a hero.

I think that poll should be globalised.


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