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IFJ condemns "disproportionate" sentencing of shoe-throwing journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Jail Term for Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has protested over the disproportionate decision of an Iraqi court which sentenced television journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi to three years in jail for throwing his shoes at former American president George W. Bush in December last year.

"This sentence is hugely out of proportion," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The journalist made a serious mistake, but it was something that should have been properly dealt with internally and not brought before the courts at all. The Iraqi response is regrettable and we urge that there is clemency and his sentence is reduced on appeal."

According to media reports from Baghdad, the judge ordered the jail sentence after finding the journalist guilty of assault on a foreign leader. The defence had argued that the charge was inadmissible since Bush was not on an official visit when the journalist hurled his shoes. Their application for reducing the charge to insult also failed.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi, aged 30, a correspondent for the Iraqi-owned al-Baghdadiya TV television station based in Cairo, Egypt, shot to fame in Iraq after he removed his shoes and threw them at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad with the country's Prime Minister Al-Maliki on 14 December. He has been in detention since he was detained by American security staff and later handed over to Iraqi security services.

The IFJ has called for his release, saying his action was a desperate act to protest over injustice suffered by Iraqi citizens, including journalists, since the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation by the coalition forces. The Federation hopes al-Zeidi will be freed as soon as possible. "He has already been in custody too long over a matter which is more of embarrassment than of seriously violent behaviour," said White.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

Updates the al-Zeidi case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99368

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