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MID: Chaos at Iraq court as shoe-thrower jailed

12 Mar 2009 11:58 PM
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BAGHDAD, March 12 AFP - "This is an American court, you sons of dogs," screamed the brother of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi who was jailed for three years on Thursday for hurling his shoes at George W Bush in a parting gesture to the deeply unpopular former US president.

Family members who had been waiting nervously outside the court for the verdict began to scream and cry, some falling to their knees as word of the decision swept the Central Criminal Court building like wildfire.

"This is an American court. There is not an honourable man among you," screamed Dunya, one of Zaidi's sisters, her face contorted with anger as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Zaidi's family, many of them women wearing conservative long black abayas, marched around crying and ululating, as security guards struggled to maintain control.

Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie had opened proceedings with Zaidi hoping to have the charges reduced from the full charge of assaulting a foreign head of state.

But Rubaie said ministers had determined that Bush was on an official visit to Iraq, so Zaidi would therefore face the more serious charge for throwing his shoes at the then serving president on December 14.

Zaidi, whose shoe-hurling gesture is considered a grave insult, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, at that point risked up to 15 years in jail. But he was handed a three-year term.

The trial had first opened on February 19 but was adjourned for three weeks to determine the status of Bush's farewell trip.

Before the packed court room of journalists, lawyers and family members, the judge asked Zaidi if he was innocent. "Yes, my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi (would have done)" came the reply from the 30-year-old journalist.

Wearing a khaki suit, brown-striped shirt and thin-framed glasses, Zaidi had been led into the packed courtroom under a heavy police escort. He held his chin high as he sat in the dock.

Events took a turn for the worse when newly appointed lawyer Tareq Hab walked out after having not been allowed to finish his statement. The judge said he had already seen it.

Chief defence lawyer Ehiya al-Sadi then argued his client's motives were "honourable" and the action had expressed his feelings over the suffering of Iraqis since the US-led invasion of 2003.

"He was only expressing his feelings. What he could see was the blood of Iraqis at his feet when he watched the US president speaking about his achievements in Iraq."

When the sentence was read out, with the judge having cleared most of the courtroom, Zaidi shouted: "Iraq, long live Iraq," defence lawyer Yahia Attabi told AFP outside.

His 25-strong defence team emerged to accusations of not having done enough for their client and that the verdict had been politically motivated.

But Aqeel Mehdi al-Zubaidi, another lawyer, disagreed.

"We respect the Iraqi court system and we have no doubt about the decision," he said. "The court issued the lightest sentence possible under Iraqi law given the charges."

But family members vowed to fight on with an appeal. "It's an unfair decision," insisted Haider al-Zaidi, an uncle.