Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist Faces 15 Years in Prison

The journalist who threw his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush will face trial on February 19th for assaulting a visiting head of state, with a maximum 15-year prison term, a court official said yesterday.

Muntazer al-Zaidi's defense lawyers lost an appeal to have the charges against him reduced to a lesser offense of insulting Bush, rather than assaulting him.

"The Iraqi appeals court has rejected the appeal submitted by Muntader al-Zaidi's defense lawyer to change the charges, and decided to set February 19th as the date for trial," said Iraqi judiciary council spokesman Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar.

Al-Zaidi has been held in jail in Baghdad since hurling both shoes at Bush at a Dec. 14 news conference during the then president's final visit to Iraq. Bush ducked the flying shoes while the journalist called him a "dog."

The act, captured on television, made al-Zaidi a hero in much of the Arab world. In one tribute, an artist built a giant statue of a shoe, which was eventually dismantled, in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit.

Iraqi law has a statute forbidding aggression against visiting leaders. Al-Zaidi's lawyers have argued that throwing a shoe could not be considered aggression because it could not cause actual harm, and was therefore only an insult.

Birqdar said the appeals court had rejected the appeal, ruling that this was a matter for the criminal court to decide.

Members of al-Zaidi's family have complained that they believe he was beaten in custody. He was last seen in public being pummelled and wrestled out of the press conference in stocking feet.

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