Iraq’s justice system is to probe the case of the journalist who hurled his shoes at US President George W. Bush, officials said on Tuesday, as his brother said he had been beaten up by security agents.
“Muntazer al-Zaidi has been transferred to the judicial authorities who have opened an investigation. But it is too soon to say who was behind this act,” General Qassem Atta, spokesman for a Baghdad security plan, told AFP.
The journalist’s brother, meanwhile, said he has a broken arm and ribs after being struck by Iraqi security agents.
Durgham Zaidi was unable to say whether Muntazer had sustained the injuries while being overpowered during Sunday’s protest against Bush’s visit to Baghdad or while in custody later.
He said he had been told that his brother was initially held by Iraqi forces in the heavily fortified Green Zone compound in central Baghdad where the US embassy and most government offices are housed.
“He has got a broken arm and ribs, and cuts to his eye and arm,” said Durgham.
Zaidi, 29, a journalist for private Iraqi television channel Al-Baghdadia, was swiftly overpowered by Iraqi security forces after he threw the shoes at Bush in a gesture seen as the supreme mark of disrespect in the Muslim world.
An AFP journalist said that blood was visible on the ground as he was led away into custody although it was unclear if it was his.
Bush, who was on a swansong visit to the battleground that came to dominate his eight-year presidency, ducked when the shoes were thrown and later made light of the incident.
But Zaidi’s action won him widespread plaudits in the Arab world where Bush’s policies have drawn broad hostility.
The Lebanese television channel NTV, known for its opposition to Washington, went as far as offering a job to the journalist.
In its evening news bulletin on Monday, it said that if he takes the job, he will be paid “from the moment the first shoe was thrown”.
Zaidi A manager at the channel told AFP that it had made its offer known to Zaidi and was ready to post bail on his behalf.
An Iraqi lawyer said Zaidi risks a miminum of two years in prison if he is successfully prosecuted for insulting a visiting head of state.
In Gaza, around 20 Palestinian gunmen from the Popular Resistance Committees, a hardline militant group that has been behind a spate of rocket attacks on Israel in recent weeks, staged a demonstration in support of Zaidi.
Wearing fatigues and brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles, they stamped on photographs of the US president and held banners in support of the journalist.
Egyptian independent daily Al-Badeel carried a frontpage caricature of the US flag with the sole of a shoe replacing the stars in the top corner.
Even government-owned newspapers in Cairo praised Zaidi’s actions. “Pelting the American president with shoes was the best way for expressing what Iraqis and Arabs feel toward Bush,” wrote Al-Gomhuria editor Mohammad Ali Ibrahim.
In Iraq, press comment was divided.
The pro-government Al-Sabah newspaper expressed concern about the potential impact on press freedom of what it called Zaidi’s “abnormal individual behaviour.”
But the independent Al-Dustur newspaper hailed the journalist as the “only Iraqi whose patriotic feelings made him express his opinion in this way.”
“It is not a declaration by the Iraqi media only, but for all Iraqis who have suffered over the years and we demand that he not be handed over to US forces,” the paper said.