1 angry Iraqi journalist + 2 flying shoes = 3 years
Muntadhar al-Zeidi was sentenced to three years in jail Thursday for hurling his shoes at President Bush.
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Even though the ex-president laughed off the footwear fracas, which overshadowed his farewell trip to Iraq, the presiding judge in Baghdad wasn't so lighthearted about the matter on Thursday, when he handed down punishment.
Judge Abdul-Amir al-Rubaie followed the letter of the law when sentencing Mr. Zeidi for assaulting a foreign leader. To be sure, he could have been much more severe in determining the sentence – the maximum penalty is 15 years.
A spokesman for the court said Zeidi could appeal the decision.
In his defense Thursday, Zeidi told the court that he was not guilty and said what he did "was a natural response to the occupation."
The Monitor's Baghdad correspondent, Jane Arraf, reported that Zeidi was greeted like a rock star when he originally appeared in court last month.
"Mr. Zeidi's friends and family cheered and ululated as the Arab world's most famous journalist was escorted into Baghdad's central criminal court. An aunt, Nuwal Lazim, thrust a scarf patterned after the Iraqi flag at him. He kissed it before tossing it on his neck."
You can read Ms. Arraf's story here.
She also spelled out his original defense: "Whether or not Bush was a guest is indeed the crux of Zeidi's defense – and he had 16 defense lawyers ready to argue that case. Zeidi claimed Bush wasn't invited here, so he can't be guilty of insulting a visiting dignitary."
Clearly Judge Rubaie wasn't buying it. During the proceeding Thursday, he read a statement from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office stating that Bush's visit was indeed official.
While the incident propelled Zeidi to fame – he has been feted around the region for hurling such an insult at the unpopular former American president – it was deeply embarrassing to Mr. Maliki, who was standing next to Bush when the shoes were thrown.
It turned out that Zeidi had even practiced his shoe-throwing technique in preparation for the day he'd be able to insult – or assault – Bush.
One of his lawyers said Thursday that the act "was an expression of freedom and does not constitute a crime.... it was an act of throwing a shoe and not a rocket."