London-Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Muntadhar Al Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush during his recent visit to Baghdad appeared before an investigating judge on Tuesday and admitted to aggression against the American President.
Maitham Al Zaidi, Muntadhar’s youngest brother confirmed that the members of the Al Zaidi family did not fear for their own safety and expressed that if they were living under the previous regime, they would undoubtedly have felt afraid.
Abdul Satar Birqadr, a spokesman for Iraq’s High Judicial Council said that Muntadhar Al Zaidi had appeared before the investigating judge, in the presence of a defence lawyer and the prosecutor, and admitted aggression against a president.
During a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Maitham Al Zaidi said, “Muntadhar phoned me personally around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening (Tuesday) while I was at the office of Al-Baghdadi satellite channel (in Baghdad) and he said three sentences to me: ‘I am well, I will go to court tomorrow (Wednesday), and get me a lawyer.’”
Maitham confirmed that this telephone call was not made from Muntadhar’s telephone. He added that the family had attempted to call Muntadhar on a number of occasions but had been unable to get through since his telephone had been switched off.
Maitham added, “Muntadhar sounded well, he sounded much better than I expected.” Maitham stated that his family did not fear for Muntadhar’s safety, saying, “If we were living under the previous regime (of Saddam Hussein) we would all be afraid, and we would have all been arrested. But in an age of democracy and freedom, we are not afraid.”
Maitham explained that he did not expect his brother to attack the US President with his shoes. “We were surprised [by his actions]. We were supposed to have dinner together [that evening] but moments before entering the press conference, he contacted me and said that Bush is holding a press conference and that he would be home late.”
Maitham said that he did not watch the press conference as it was taking place, and was unaware of the news until Al Baghdadi news channel, for which Munthadar worked, contacted him. Maitham stressed that “Muntadhar did not do this for money or fame, but in defence of Iraqi honour.”
Maitham also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the family had received a phone call from an individual informing them that Muntadhar had been transferred to the Ibn Sina hospital in the Green Zone on Sunday evening with a broken arm and head injuries. However, Maitham added that he could not verify the authenticity of the telephone call and that perhaps it came from an individual trying to “deceive them”.
Maitham added that he and his family have been inundated with telephone calls in support of his brother, from Iraqis and Arabs.
Maitham Al Zaidi also revealed that the family was contacted by a representative of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who offered them permanent residency in a “villa” but the Al Zaidi family turned down the offer. President Chavez, one of Bush’s most staunch critics, had previously described Al Zaidi as “brave.”
A prominent Iraqi lawyer, Tariq Harb, revealed that a team of three Iraqi lawyers had volunteered to defend Al Zaidi. Harb refused to divulge their names, revealing only that he is one of them and the identities of the others would be revealed at a later stage.
Harb said that the three lawyers who would defend Muntadhar Al Zaidi “were not nominated [to do so] by any party…they are lawyers who volunteered to defend Muntadhar [themselves].”
Harb also explained the legal ramifications of the incident, saying that if he is found guilty, Iraqi law stipulates that Al Zaidi could be imprisoned for a period of no longer than seven years. Harb said that Al Zaidi could be charged and tried under three different sections of Iraqi law. He could be charged with aggression against a head of state, or for humiliating a head of state, adding that “the type of charge is a matter for the investigative court…since the investigative documents are now with the court.”
According to the Iraqi penal code, any person found guilty of publicly insulting the President of the Iraqi Republic, or his representatives, could face a fine, or be sentenced to a period of imprisonment that does not exceed seven years.
Iraqi law also stipulates that any person found guilty of publicly insulting a foreign country or its president, or any of its representatives in Iraq, or its flag or national emblem, could be sentenced to a period of imprisonment that does not exceed two years.
In a separate development, Al Baghdadi news channel informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the head of its Board of Directors, Dr. Aoun Hussein was offering financial assistance to the Al Zaidi family. The Lebanese Al Jadid television channel has also offered Muntadhar Al Zaidi a job at the network.
Fadia Bazzi, head of the Al Jadid news department, told AFP that the network “made this offer at the direction of the chairman of the station, Taysir Khayat,” but would reveal no further details. She added that the station is ready to pay Muntadhar Al Zaidi’s legal fees, and his bail, and that if he accepts the offer, his salary would begin from the moment that he threw his shoe at the American president. The Al Jadid channel is known for its left-wing, anti-American stance.
While in China, Liu Jianchao a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that he would be watching out for journalists taking off their shoes during press conferences. He said, “Maybe I need to look out not only for those raising their hands but also for those taking off their shoes.”