The family of an Iraqi journalist jailed for throwing his shoes at then-President George W. Bush said they’ve been told he may not be released as soon as they expected.
Prison guards have told Muntadhar al-Zaidi that he won’t leave jail Monday, according to his family. There has been no official word from the court handling the case. Udey al-Zaidi, Muntadhar’s older brother, said they now expect him to be released on Tuesday, because of procedural delays. The family promised to be back outside the prison in the morning. He said his brother had asked his family to leave because they had waited there for hours, noting that it was too much for them while they were fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Al-Zaidi threatened a hunger strike and warned that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki would be held responsible if anything were to happen to his brother while in detention. The day had been an roller coaster ride of emotions — first of celebration and then of disappointment. Dhiyaa al-Saadi, head of Iraq’s bar association and al-Zaidi’s chief attorney, said he was awaiting a decision from the judge, who had requested additional documents from the sentencing hearing before making a ruling. The delay is procedural, according to al-Saadi. Al-Zaidi is serving a one-year prison term after an appellate court reduced his original three-year sentence in April. His case returned to court in Baghdad on Monday. Under Iraqi law, a “conditional discharge” allows for the release of a prisoner after he serves three-quarters of his sentence, on good behavior. Al-Zaidi has been in jail since the December 14 news conference, at which he threw his shoes at Bush and called him a “dog” — two of the worst insults in the Middle East.Bush ducked the shoes and was not hurt.
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Al-Zaidi said he was protesting against the U.S. “occupation” of Iraq. As Bush listed the gains made in Iraq during the news conference, al-Zaidi said, he thought about the millions of civilians who had been killed, widowed or displaced. Many Iraqis called the presence of American troops in Iraq an occupation. Al-Saadi said last week that he was optimistic about his client’s release happening as early as Monday. Al-Zaidi’s family had prepared for his possible release. His brothers Udey and Dhirgham, along with their children, were plastering the walls of their modest Baghdad home with his posters Thursday. “We are happy, like any detainee’s family would be happy for the release of its son after the bitter time he spent in jail,” Dhirgham al-Zaidi said. He said the family had received many phone calls from supporters across the country who planned to travel to Baghdad and welcome al-Zaidi after his release. Al-Zaidi was sentenced to jail for “assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq.” Though many Iraqis hold Bush in low esteem, opinions were mixed in Iraq following the incident. Some viewed al-Zaidi as a hero, with thousands taking to the streets, calling for his release; others said his act went against Arab traditions of honoring guests. Al-Zaidi’s brothers said they had been offered many gifts and financial rewards, though they had rejected them.