Iraq Shoe-Thrower to Go on Trial Amid New Torture Claims
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi journalist thrust to instant fame when he threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush will go on trial this month on charges that carry up to 15 years in jail, a judge said on Monday.
Investigating judge Dhiya al-Kenani rejected new allegations by the journalist's family that he had been tortured in custody that were levelled after a brother was allowed a first prison visit.
"The investigation phase is over and the case has been transferred to the Central Criminal Court," Kenani said. "The trial will start on Wednesday, December 31."
Muntazer al-Zaidi stands accused of "aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit," an offence that carries a prison term of between five and 15 years under Iraqi law.
But the court could convict him of the lesser charge of an "attempted aggression" which carries a prison term of one to five years.
Zaidi, 29, became a hero to many when he threw his shoes at Bush during the US president's surprise visit to Iraq on December 14, an action considered a grave insult in the Arab world.
His lawyer had asked that the case be transferred from the central criminal court, which handles terrorism cases, to an ordinary tribunal but the judge refused.
Kenani confirmed that Zaidi's lawyer had lodged a complaint over his treatment in custody and that a letter would be sent to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in order to bring them to justice.
One of Zaidi's brothers, Uday, told AFP that he had been able to visit him in custody for the first time on Sunday and charged that the journalist had been tortured by his captors.
"I met my brother for around an hour. He has been tortured while in detention for 36 hours continuously. He has been hit with iron rods and cables," the brother said.
"There is very severe bleeding in his eye, and he has bruises on his feet and nose, and he was also tortured with electric shocks.
"Muntazer told me that he threw his shoes not in a quest for fame and fully expecting that he would be killed while doing so," Uday said.
"He threw his shoes over dissatisfaction with Bush's speech when he said he has brought blessings for the Iraqi people."
Zaidi's actions were hailed by many in the Arab world who considered it an ideal parting gift to a deeply unpopular Bush, who ordered the 2003 invasion of Iraq that triggered years of deadly insurgency and sectarian conflict.
The judge dismissed the family's allegations of torture.
"Muntazar's brother is lying, because there are only bruises on Muntazar's face that he received during the arrest and they are small ones," Kenani told AFP.
"Even if it were true that he had been tortured with electric shocks, it would leave burns on his body, and you will see Muntazer during the trial, so you can judge for yourself.
"Also Muntazar filed a complaint only against those who attacked him during his arrest," and not later while in custody, Kenani added.
Zaidi's family has been demonstrating in a park near the central Baghdad government compound where he is being held but Uday said security forces had told them to leave because they were in a sensitive area.
"We were forced by the Iraqi military to leave the area and they threatened to arrest us if we do not leave," he told AFP.