Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shoe thrower Muntazer al-Zaidi to be treated for torture effects after early release

Richard Kerbaj

THE Iraqi reporter who threw two shoes at George W. Bush during the former US president's farewell press conference was freed last night after nine months in prison.

Muntazer al-Zaidi has been behind bars ever since he shouted "It is the farewell kiss, you dog", at Mr Bush on December 14 last year, then hurled his size-10s at the man who ordered Iraq be invaded and occupied 6 1/2 years ago.

Mr Zaidi's three-year sentence for assault was cut to one year on appeal because he had no criminal record. He was released three months early for good behaviour.

The 30-year-old's eldest brother, Uday, claimed yesterday that prison doctors repeatedly injected "unknown substances" into his body, and that he was burnt with cigarettes and had his nose and ribs broken.

Uday said hospital specialists in Greece were expecting the reporter's arrival after his visa was recently approved.

"We decided as a family for him to go for physical and psychological treatment in Greece," Uday said at his brother's flat in central Baghdad. One of Mr Zaidi's three brothers will accompany him.

Uday alleged that his brother, a television journalist, was given injections by prison staff against his will. He said doctors told his brother they were treating him for migraines and stress.

Mr Zaidi was imprisoned at an Iraqi military compound at the former al-Muthanna airport in Baghdad. Uday said his brother had been burned with "cigarettes behind his ears, had his ribs and nose broken".

He said the torture was the result of Mr Zaidi's refusal to write and sign a letter of apology to Mr Bush and to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing next to Mr Bush during the incident.

The attack made Mr Zaidi a hero across parts of the Arab and Muslim world, where shoe-throwing is considered a very grave insult. Although Mr Bush, who successfully ducked to avoid the speeding footwear, laughed off the attack, the incident caused acute embarrassment to him and Mr Maliki.

Mr Zaidi's boss at al-Baghdadia Television has promised the previously little-known reporter a new home as a reward for loyalty and the publicity that his actions generated for the station.

There was also talk of plum job offers from bigger Arab networks, lavish gifts such as sports cars from businessmen, guaranteed celebrity status, and reports that many Arab women want his hand in marriage.

But Mr Zaidi did not wish to return to journalism, nor enter politics, and planned instead to set up a human rights group, his brother said.

"He wants to do something to help the Iraqi people," Uday said. "And he has done more to help Iraqi people with his defiance than any politician has."

Source: The Australian

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