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Shoe thrower released from prison, says he was tortured

IPI urges prompt and thorough investigation into claims

(IPI/IFEX) - 15 September, VIENNA - Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who spent nine months in prison after throwing his shoes at former U.S President George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad last year, has been released. He had originally been sentenced to three years, for insulting a foreign head of state. The sentence was subsequently reduced to one year and he was released three months early for good behaviour.

"It is the farewell kiss, you dog," Zaidi shouted as he hurled the shoes. His act made him a hero across the region and his release was met with widespread jubilation.

Upon his release, the reporter told journalists he had been tortured by senior government officials while in prison. He said he had been subjected to beatings, whippings, electric shocks and simulated drowning by officials and guards.

Reuters news agency reported his speech was slurred because of a missing tooth.

The allegations of abuse echo claims made earlier by his family, who said he had been beaten, and had suffered broken ribs, a broken arm and internal bleeding.

The allegations have overshadowed suggestions that he overstepped the ethical boundaries of his profession.

"It is our view that in acting as he did Muntazer al-Zaidi failed to live up to his responsibilities as a journalist," said IPI Director David Dadge. "He violated the code of conduct, and jeopardized journalists' future access to high-profile figures. However, we also believe that the sentence was wholly disproportionate, and the allegations of torture made by him and his family are particularly troubling. We urge the Iraqi authorities to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation."

Iraq remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters. At least 169 journalists have been killed in the line of duty over the last seven years, according to IPI's 'Death Watch' figures - many of them Iraqis murdered in the sectarian violence that has ravaged the country.

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