WASHINGTON - US activists on Monday urged Baghdad to release the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush, insisting that his gesture was meant to insult, not harm the US leader.
"This was a form of insult... If he had wanted to hurt George Bush, he would have chosen a different weapon," Medea Benjamin of the Codepink peace activism group told AFP at a rally of about a dozen people outside the Iraqi consulate in Washington.
Zaidi, 29, 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.
He is due to appear in court in Baghdad on Wednesday on charges of "aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit," an offense which could see him go to jail for up to 15 years.
Handing down a stiff sentence to Zaidi would "fan the flames of anti-Americanism," said Benjamin of Codepink, founded by US women in 2002.
"This should be seen as a non-violent act of civil disobedience which, as Bush said, happens in a democratic society. If indeed that is the case, then he should be pardoned."
The protesters tried to hand-deliver a petition for Zaidi's release to the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, but "there was nobody at the embassy to receive us," Benjamin said.
The court could convict Zaidi of "attempted aggression," a lesser charge which carries a prison term of one to five years, but the US protesters insisted he should be pardoned.
"We want the Iraqi government and the world to know that there is a very good sentiment for him to be set free," said Nick Mottern, director of Consumers for Peace.