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March 13, 2009

IFJ calls for release of shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist

By Jon Slattery

A protest over the three-year jail sentence handed down to television journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi for throwing his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference has been made by The International Federation of Journalists.

Al-Zaidi was yesterday found guilty of assaulting a foreign leader.

“This sentence is hugely out of proportion,” said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary.

“The journalist made a serious mistake, but it was something that should have been properly dealt with internally and not brought before the courts at all.

“The Iraqi response is regrettable and we urge that there is clemency and his sentence is reduced on appeal.

“He has already been in custody too long over a matter which is more of embarrassment than of seriously violent behaviour.”

Zeidi, 30, a correspondent for the Iraqi-owned al-Baghdadiya TV television station based in Cairo, Egypt, has become a cult figure.

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The IFJ has called for his release, saying his action was a desperate act to protest over injustice suffered by Iraqi citizens, including journalists, since the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation by the coalition forces. The Federation said it hopes Zeidi will be freed as soon as possible.

There is speculation that the journalist will not have to serve the full sentence. His lawyer is to appeal and some experts think Zaidi wiull be pardoned by the Iraqi government part way through his sentence.

The Independent said in a leader today: “If public opinion had anything to do with it, Muntadar al-Zaidi would not be commencing a three-year sentence in an Iraqi prison, but being borne aloft through the streets of Baghdad.

“For if there was one act that defined the contempt felt by many for the Bush presidency, it was the hurling of those shoes in his direction, described by Mr Zaidi as ‘a farewell kiss’ from Iraqis who had been killed, orphaned or widowed since the invasion.”

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