x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Shoe thrower to face Iraq court

Muntadhar al-Zeidi appearing in court today is the first step in complex legal process that can take months.

BAGHDAD // The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at the US President George W Bush was expected to appear before a judge today in a first step of a complex legal process that could end in a criminal trial, a government official said. Muntadhar al-Zeidi has been in custody since Sunday, when he gained folk hero status across the Arab world by throwing both shoes at Mr Bush during a news conference. Mr Bush ducked twice during the bizarre assault and was not injured.

Despite widespread sympathy for his act across the region, Iraqi authorities sent the case to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which handles security and terrorism cases. An investigative judge will review the evidence and decide whether Mr al-Zeidi should stand trial, a process that could take months. Iraq officials have recommended charging him with insulting a foreign leader, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment or a minimum sentence of a small fine. But investigative judges have sweeping powers under Iraqi law to amend and add charges, or even dismiss the case.

If the judge finds enough evidence to warrant prosecution, a judicial panel will appoint three judges to hear the case and set a trial date. Shiite lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji said he expected Mr al-Zeidi, who's in his late 20s, to be released on bail in the next few days while the investigative judge considers the case. Al-Baghdadia television, Mr al-Zeidi's employer, said Mr al-Zeidi would be represented by Dhiaa Saadi, the head of the Iraqi lawyers' association. The head of Jordan's Bar Association, Saleh Armouti, said scores of lawyers have volunteered to help. The association is dominated by hard-line Muslims and leftists critical of the 2003 US-led invasion.

The government of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Mr Bush when the shoe attack occurred, issued no statement about how it planned to pursue the case. Maitham al-Zeidi also said his brother sounded fit, despite claims by another brother that he had suffered a severe beating after being grabbed by Iraqi security at the Sunday press conference. Mr al-Zeidi's other brother, Dhargham, said Muntadhar had a broken leg, cracked ribs and some injuries under his eye.

The Interior Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf also denied reports that Mr al-Zeidi had been badly injured. "The rumours about Mr al-Zeidi being injured or being hurt are baseless," Mr Khalaf said. "You can check that when you see him in the criminal court tomorrow morning." In Washington, a White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it was up to Iraqi leaders to decide whether punishment is appropriate for Mr al-Zeidi. "The president believes that Iraq is a sovereign country, a democratic country, and they will have a process that they follow on this," said Mrs Perino, who suffered an eye injury in the fracas that followed the assault. "The president harbours no hard feelings about the incident."

* AP