Bush shoe-thrower 'too injured' to appear in court, brother says
BAGHDAD — The Iraqi journalist who became an instant media star for hurling his shoes at US President George W. Bush appeared on Wednesday before a judge investigating the incident.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, 29, a television reporter who relatives and colleagues said acted because he "detested" Bush and America, was brought before the judge in the high-security Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad, his brother, Dhargham, said.
Al-Zaidi appeared before the judge in his jail cell "because he is too injured to appear in a courtroom," Australia's Herald Sun quotes the brother as saying.
"The al-Zaidi family went to Baghdad's Central Criminal Court expecting to attend a hearing," reports the paper. The brother said "the family was told that the investigative judge went to see [Muntazer] al-Zaidi in jail, and to return in eight days," which Dhargham took to mean that his brother "was severely beaten and they fear that his appearance could trigger anger at the court."
But Iraqi officials and another brother deny that the journalist suffered severe injuries after being wrestled to the floor after the incident, the Herald Sun says.
Under Iraqi law, Zaidi risks up to seven years in jail for "offending the head of a foreign state."
Lead lawyer Dhiya al-Saadi said he had yet to see his client but that he would apply for permission to see him on Thursday and would also lodge a bail request.
"Tomorrow we will submit two requests -- first, to be able to meet Muntazer al-Zaidi for enough time to assess his state of health and prepare his defence, and second for him to be granted bail on condition that he answer any summons to appear before the judge," Saadi told AFP.
The lawyer, who heads Iraq's bar association, said he saw no reason for the bail application to be refused. "The investigation is virtually complete and there is no risk of his absconding," he said.
He said he had been able to examine the minutes of the police investigation into Zaidi's protest since receiving his power of attorney earlier in the day.
Durgham said on Tuesday that his brother had been taken to the US-run Ibn Sina hospital in the Green Zone after being beaten by security guards and suffering a broken arm and ribs, as well as injuries to an eye and a leg.
He was unable to say whether Muntazer had sustained the injuries while being overpowered during Sunday's protest or after his arrest, and there was no immediate information about the journalist's condition on Wednesday.
Zaidi grabbed the world spotlight when he threw his shoes at Bush during a press conference and called him a dog during a farewell visit to Iraq by the US leader who ordered the invasion of the country in 2003.
Bush ducked both shoes while Zaidi, who works for private Iraqi television station Al-Baghdadia, was wrestled to the ground by guards after his action, regarded as the supreme mark of disrespect in the Muslim world.
To avoid a repeat of the drama, tight security measures were introduced at a press conference on Wednesday between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his counterpart Gordon Brown of Britain -- Washington's top ally in the war.
Extra security guards were brought in to monitor journalists, and anyone not appearing on a list of accredited reporters was barred, although no one was asked to remove their footwear.
Later, addressing British troops, he quipped: "I was going to say before I spoke that you should take off your shoes."
The White House said on Tuesday it was for Iraqi leaders to decide whether to punish Zaidi, who relatives said had been arrested at the beginning of the year by US forces and was once kidnapped by militants and held for days.
"I think the president believes that Iraq is a sovereign country, a democratic country, and they will have a process that they follow on this," spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
"The president harbours no hard feelings about the incident. We've really moved on."
Perino, who herself was sporting a bruise on her face from the shoe throwing, sought to downplay the incident.
"I don't think that you can take one guy throwing his shoe as representative of the people of Iraq," she said.
Zaidi's action won him widespread plaudits in the Arab world where Bush's policies in Iraq as well as the broader Middle East and the US-led "war on terror" have drawn deep hostility.
Iraqi reaction was mixed, however, with some considering the attack against a visiting head of state reflected badly on the country, while others considered it the ideal parting gift for an unpopular president.
With wire services.