BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – An Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in a fit of outrage was hit in the head with a rifle butt and had an arm broken in chaotic scenes when he was leapt on by Iraqi security officers, his brother said on Tuesday.
TV reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who called Bush a “dog” at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday, was in a hospital in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, his brother Maitham al-Zaidi said.
“All that we know is we were contacted yesterday by a person — we know him — and he told us that Muntazer was taken on Sunday to Ibn-Sina hospital,” Maitham al-Zaidi said. “He was wounded in the head because he was hit by a rifle butt, and one of his arms was broken.”
The brother declined to identify the source of the information and his comments could not be independently verified. Asked about the brother’s remarks, various Iraqi officials denied having responsibility for the case.
The U.S. military said Zaidi was in the custody of the Iraqi military, but a spokesman for the Iraqi defence minister denied this and said he had no knowledge of Zaidi’s condition.
After calling Bush a dog, Zaidi threw his shoes at the U.S. president in an act of supreme insult. Bush had to duck to evade one of the shoes.
Zaidi, whose family said he blamed Bush for the thousands of Iraqis who died after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and who has been hailed as a hero by many in the Arab world, was pounced on by security and dragged away struggling and screaming.
An Iraqi official said on Monday that the case was being referred to the courts.
The most likely charge against Zaidi would be one that allowed for up to two years in prison for anyone who publicly insults a foreign state, an international organization or a foreign country’s head of state, said leading criminal lawyer Ali Ahmed Mansour.
“Based on my legal knowledge I am sure he will be charged with insulting a president of a foreign state,” Mansour said on Tuesday. “He will be jailed for this action.”
Zaidi could also conceivably be charged under another clause in the 1969 Iraqi penal code that allows for seven years in prison for anyone who “insults the President or his representative”, lawyers said.
The court would have to view Prime Minister Maliki as the modern day equivalent of what the pre-Saddam Hussein penal code termed the President, and would also have to decide whether Zaidi’s insult to Bush was also an insult to Maliki, experts said.
“Which article is used will definitely be up to the investigating court to decide,” said Tarq Harb, an Iraqi lawyer and recognized legal expert.
“The government, executive or legislative authorities have nothing to do with it, they have no right to intervene.”
Lawyers said crimes referred to the courts by members of the Iraqi cabinet were overseen by a body called the “Joint Investigatory Committee,” made up of U.S. officials, Iraqi federal police and Iraqi justices, and are investigated by a special judge at the Iraqi Central Criminal Court.