GENEVA, (AP) – A Swiss lawyer working on behalf of the Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush said Monday his client will seek political asylum in Switzerland.
Geneva-based lawyer Mauro Poggia said Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s life is in danger if he stays in Iraq.
Al-Zeidi has been detained in an Iraqi jail awaiting trial since he was seized by guards after his Dec. 14 outburst at a joint news conference in Baghdad by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“He is in danger over there,” Poggia told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday. “He’s also in danger in other Muslim countries because people who support his action could try to make him a martyr.”
Al-Zeidi’s gesture of anger at Bush turned the employee of a minor TV station into a national hero to many Iraqis fed up with America’s six-year presence in the country. But concern has been raised about his safety after allegations that he had been severely beaten and tortured in detention.
Poggia said any harm caused to al-Zeidi could trigger violent protests in Iraq.
“I think it’s in the interest of the current Iraqi government that nothing happens to Mr. al-Zeidi,” he said.
The lawyer said he was contacted earlier this month by al-Zeidi’s relatives because of Switzerland’s reputation as a safe, neutral country. Geneva is the seat of the Red Cross movement and the European headquarters of the United Nations.
“My client needs to make his request at the Swiss embassy in Baghdad when he is released,” said Poggia. “But we don’t know when he will be able to do that because he still hasn’t gone to trial.”
Al-Zeidi, 30, had been due to face a trial last month on a charge of assaulting a foreign leader, but the court date was postponed after his defense filed a motion to reduce the charges to simply insulting Bush.