The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a news conference was beaten afterward and had bruises on his face and around his eyes, a judge said Friday.
Judge Dhia al-Kinani, the magistrate investigating the incident, said the court has opened an investigation into the alleged beating of journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi.
Al-Zeidi was wrestled to the ground after throwing his shoes during the news conference Sunday by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and there has been conflicting claims on his condition since then. One of his brothers said he was harshly beaten, but another said he seemed to be in good condition.
Al-Zeidi “was beaten in the news conference and we will watch the tape and write an official letter asking for the names of those who assaulted him,” the judge told The Associated Press. “Al-Zeidi has the right to drop this case.”
The journalist was in custody and was expected to eventually face charges of insulting a foreign leader. A conviction could bring a sentence of two years in prison.
Al-Kinani also confirmed that the journalist had written a letter of apology to al-Maliki. Iraq’s president can grant pardons that are requested by the prime minister, but the judge said such a pardon can be issued only after a conviction.
He added that he could not drop the case even though neither Bush nor al-Maliki had complained. “This case was filed because of an article in the law concerning the protection of the respect of sovereignity,” he said.
A spokesman for al-Maliki said Thursday that the letter contained a specific pardon request. But al-Zeidi’s brother Dhargham told The AP that he suspected the letter was a forgery.
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The incident, a vivid demonstration of Iraqis’ dismay over the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the country for more than five years, turned al-Zeidi into an instant folk hero. Thousands of Iraqis have demonstrated for his release.
The judge said the investigation would be completed and sent to the criminal court on Sunday, after which a court date would be set within seven to 10 days.
Al-Zeidi’s action was broadcast repeatedly on television stations around the world. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested that worldwide attention to the shoe-tossing was overblown.
“We would hope that the fact of a U.S. president standing next to a freely elected prime minister of Iraq who just happens to be Shia, who is governing in a multi-confessional, multiethnic democracy in the heart of the Middle East, is not overshadowed by one incident like this,” McCormack told reporters in Washington.
McCormack said he believed that in the coming years “the fact of the president making that visit under those circumstances will probably overshadow any memory of this particular gentleman and what he did.”
In the Iranian capital Tehran, hard-line Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati praised the act at Friday prayers, calling it the “Shoe Intifadha.”
Jannati proposed people in Iraq and Iran should carry shoes in further anti-American demonstrations. “This should be a role model,” said Jannati.
Also Friday, the head of a large West Bank family said it is willing to offer one of its eligible females as a bride for al-Zeidi. The leader, 75-year-old Ahmad Salim Judeh, said that the 500-member clan had raised $30,000 for al-Zeidi’s legal defense.