The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at then-President George W. Bush told a judge Thursday that he was protesting against the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi’s hour-long appearance at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq was his first public appearance since his arrest two months ago. Al-Zaidi told the judge that he had intended to humiliate Bush in the past. As Bush listed the gains made in Iraq during the mid-December news conference, al-Zaidi said, he was thinking about the millions of civilians who had been killed, widowed or displaced. Many Iraqis call the presence of American troops in Iraq an occupation. The trial will resume March 12 while the court asks the Cabinet to clarify whether Bush’s visit was official or not. Al-Zaidi is charged with “assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq.” In December, al-Zaidi’s defense team filed an appeal requesting the charge be changed from “assaulting” to “insulting.” According to the Iraqi penal code, anyone who assaults a foreign head of state is punished by “imprisonment for a term of years,” with the court deciding the sentence. Lawyer Dhiyaa al-Saadi told CNN in December that his client could face 15 years in jail if convicted. On the other hand, insulting a foreign head of state is punishable by a two-year prison sentence and a fine. Dressed in an olive-green suit and black shoes, al-Zaidi entered the courthouse to loud applause and cheers. Some family members and supporters, who were waiting outside, draped an Iraqi flag around his neck. A woman in the crowd shouted, “You hero!”
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As he left, the crowd pressed forward to get close to al-Zaidi, who waved as he was led away. Earlier, lawyer al-Saadi told the al-Baghdadia television network that his client’s “morale is high.” Al-Baghdadia is the journalist’s employer and has been calling for his release. Al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at Bush during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Neither shoe hit the president, and other people in the room quickly knocked Al-Zaidi to the ground before security officials arrested him.
By tradition, throwing a shoe is the most insulting act in the Arab world. His angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero, and demonstrators have taken to the streets in the Arab world demanding that he be set free.