Iraqi shoe thrower's case highlights prison abuses
Muntadhar al-Zeidi's release, expected Monday, was delayed by 'paperwork.' His brother claims Muntadhar was tortured while in prison.
The jailed Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former President George W. Bush was due to be freed Monday but after much anticipation said his release had been delayed by “paperwork.”
Muntadhar al-Zeidi called his brother, Dargham, to inform him of the delay five hours after relatives had gathered to greet him with balloons and dancing outside the prison in central Baghdad where he is being held.
Dargham, who has alleged that his brother was tortured and has sustained numerous injuries at the hands of his captors, pledged to stage a sit-in until he is released.
Muntadhar was arrested after hurling his shoes at the US president and calling him a “dog” – both searing insults in the Muslim world – during a press conference in December 2008. In March, he was sentenced to three years in jail. His prison term was later reduced to one year because he had no prior offenses, and he was due to be released three months early for good behavior.
A spotlight on abuse of prisoners
The alleged mistreatment of Muntadhar is one of many cases that point to systemic abuse in the Iraqi detention system, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week.
The issue has taken on particular urgency as the US accelerates the release of thousands of Iraqi detainees in its custody, many of which will end up in Iraq jails. As Human Rights Watch researcher Samar Muscati told the Monitor, the transfer of detainees to a system where this is a “substantial risk” of torture or mistreatment violates international law:
In our research over the last couple of years ... we heard credible allegations of torture and mistreatment during initial detention by Iraqi forces. So it will be incumbent on the US to verify conditions in Iraqi facilities that receive such transfers through regular inspections of those facilities by impartial and independent observers.
US officers say they have identified nine specific prisons, which they routinely inspect, where the transferred detainees will be properly treated. But numerous Iraqi officials and human rights workers interviewed by the Monitor expressed concern about some of those prisons, and US soldiers in Diyala province confirmed that some detainees are sent to more notorious prisons.
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Nine months' pay, a house — and possibly a wife
Muntadhar is likely faring better than others in the system, as his employer – the Cairo-based al-Baghdadi TV channel – has reportedly continued to pay his salary during his prison stint, and will provide a house in Baghdad upon his return.