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IRAQ

Freed shoe thrower says he was tortured in jail

4 min

Muntazer al-Zaidi, who made global headlines when he hurled his shoes at former US President George W. Bush at a press conference in Dec. 2008, has alleged he was tortured during his nine-month incarceration in a Baghdad jail.

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Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi -- better known as the "shoe thrower" -- has alleged he was tortured by his jailers during his nine-month incarceration, a charge his brother has repeated to FRANCE 24.

Zaidi was jailed in December 2008 for throwing his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a press conference.

His brother Uday told FRANCE 24 that Zaidi's health had suffered from his spell in prison. He also repeated the allegations of torture.

 

He said: "Mountazer is in very poor health, he was subjected to severe torture.

 

"In addition, he was fasting today because it is Ramadan. He is exhausted and is being treated by doctors.

"We have not taken him to hospital because we fear for his life after the serious revelations he made today."

 

When he left prison Tuesday, Zaidi told reporters: "Today I am free again but my home is still a prison," referring to the continued US military presence in Iraq six and half years after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

He was slurring his speech because of a missing tooth and claimed he was tortured during his imprisonment.

"I was tortured with electric shocks, beaten with cables," he said.

 

Zaidi earned respect and notoriety across the Arab world and beyond for hurling his size-tens at US President George W. Bush during a news conference in December 2008.

 

As he threw the shoes -- considered a grave insult in the Arab world -- he shouted at Bush: "This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is for the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

 

Although Bush was able to laugh the incident off, Zaidi's actions caused huge embarassment to the White House and also to Al-Maliki's administration in Baghdad.

 

Indeed, many Iraqis thought the gesture went too far and was beyond the pale of strict Arabic sensibilities.

 

But the previously unheralded reporter immediately gained hero status from many in a country and region where Bush was -- and remains -- a deeply unpopular figure.

 

Initially he faced 15 years in jail for assaulting a foreign head of state, but was sentenced to three years, which was reduced on appeal and for good behaviour. In the end, he served nine months of his sentence.

 

Lucrative and eccentric offers

 

Now that he is free, Zaidi faces a very different life from the one he knew as a relatively unknown reporter.

 

His boss at the small al-Baghdadia television station has promised him a new home on the back of the publicity he brought to the channel. The channel even continued to pay his salary while he was in jail.

 

Zaidi has been offered jobs by other television channels and political parties who are clamouring to take advantage of the anti-American kudos he earned in the eyes of many Iraqis.

 

 

Other offers have been eccentric, such as the promise of a golden horse from the Emir of Qatar.

 

One Saudi businessman reportedly offered 10 million dollar to buy one of the shoes. But these were instead inspected by US soldiers for explosives after the incident and then burned.

 

An Iraqi living in Morocco offered Zaidi his daughter's hand in marriage, and interest from women has poured in from the four quarters of the Arab world.

 

He was even awarded a medal by one the daughters of Libyan supremo Colonel Gadaffi and Iraqis erected a giant statue of a shoe in Baghdad in his honour.

 

Others have cashed in on Zaidi's fame. In Bangladesh, a black and brown leather lace-up shoe named after him has become a top seller.

Zaidi's actions also inspired a British student, Alex Tew, to create a "Sock and Awe" shoe-throwing website, which claims to have had almost 100 million hits in the face of ex-president Bush on the Internet.

 

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