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Journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi had pleaded not guilty to charge of aggression against George Bush
* Michael Howard in Erbil
* guardian.co.uk, Thursday 12 March 2009
The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at George Bush, gaining instant hero status in much of the Arab world, has been sentenced to three years in prison, his defence lawyer said today.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, 30, who worked for the al-Baghdadiya television channel, had earlier pleaded not guilty and said his actions had been a "natural response to the occupation".
He was given the three-year sentence for assaulting a foreign head of state during an offcial visit.
After the verdict was announced, his relatives erupted in anger, shouting that the decision was unjust and unfair.
Zaidi denied charges of aggression against a foreign head of state as his trial resumed after a three-week hiatus.
Under a Saddam Hussein-era law, he could have faced up to 15 years in prison.
Judges last month adjourned the case after only 90 minutes, saying they needed time to decide whether or not the then US president had been on an official state visit when the incident happened in December.
The trial took place at the central criminal court in Baghdad's Green Zone, which is normally reserved for terrorism cases.
Several Iraqi politicians had attended the first session, seeing it as a test of the country's post-Saddam judiciary.
In that session, Zaidi, draped in an Iraqi flag, told the court how his anger had boiled over as he watched Bush "smiling that icy smile".
The then US president was standing next to the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
He spoke of "progress" in Iraq since 2003 and the leaders having dinner together.
"I thought about what the achievements were — killing about a million Iraqis," Zaidi said. "I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes."
The journalist took off his shoes and threw them at Bush, who ducked behind a lectern.
The throwing of shoes is considered an insult in the Muslim world.
He also shouted at Bush: "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," before security guards bundled him to the ground.
Some Iraqi officials regard Zaidi's actions as an insult to the Iraqi state.
Zaidi has been criticised by fellow Iraqi journalists, who said he had allowed his emotions to overcome his professionalism.
However, many ordinary Iraqis said the journalist – who had been detained since throwinbg the shoes on December 14 – had already served his punishment and should be released.
Dhiya al-Saadi, the chief of his 25-strong defence team, told the Guardian that the lawyers would argue that his actions amounted to freedom of speech – protected in the constitution – and that the charges against him were too strong.
Prior to the start of the trial, Zaidi claimed he had been beaten and tortured while in custody.
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