BAGHDAD, March 12, 2009 (AFP) - An Iraqi court on Thursday jailed for three years the journalist who shot to fame in the Arab world for throwing his shoes at former US president George W. Bush.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, a 30-year-old television journalist, had pleaded not guilty at the hearing in the Iraq Central Criminal Court to assaulting Bush during his farewell visit to Iraq last year.
"He was sentenced to three years in jail," defence lawyer Yahia Attabi told reporters outside the Baghdad court.
"We expected the decision because under the Iraqi criminal code he was charged with assaulting a foreign leader on an official visit," Attabi said, adding: "We will appeal this decision."
Zaidi, whose shoe-hurling gesture is considered a grave insult in the Arab and Muslim world, had risked up to 15 years in jail on the charge of aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit.
The former US president, deeply unpopular in the Arab world for ordering the 2003 invasion of Iraq, had been at a globally-televised media conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when Zaidi let rip with his shoes, zinging them at Bush, who managed to duck just in time.
When Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie asked Zaidi if he was innocent, the journalist responded: "Yes, my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi (would have done)."
After the verdict, his 25-strong defence team emerged to scenes of chaos outside the court, where several family members screamed: "It's an American court... sons of dogs."
Wearing a light-brown suit, brown sweatshirt and thin-framed glasses, Zaidi had been brought into the packed courtroom under a heavy police escort.
Chief defence lawyer Ehiya al-Sadi had argued that his client's motives were "honourable."
"He was only expressing his feelings. What he could see was the blood of Iraqis at his feet when he watched the US president speaking about his achievements in Iraq."
He also argued that although Iraqi law considered it an attack on a visiting head of state, "his throwing of the shoe did not cause any injury or damage.
"The president did not lose a leg or hand or finger. It was not an attempt to murder but an attempted assault.
"But it was not a real assault because he wanted to insult the president. The way he did it was buy throwing a shoe not a mortar or bomb.
"His goal was to insult Bush for the the pain Iraqis have suffered.
He asked for the court to consider Zaidi innocent and take note of the fact that he had already been in jail for three months.
The trial first opened on February 19 but was adjourned to determine the nature of Bush's December 14 visit. The judge told the court that government ministers had declared it official.
There was standing room only on Thursday at the courtroom on the edge of Baghdad's high security Green Zone as some 200 family members, reporters and lawyers crowded in.
One of Zaidi's brothers, Uday, had told AFP he expected Muntazer to be found guilty, describing the trial as a "farce."
The Baghdadia television reporter told the court in February that he had been outraged and was unable to control his emotions when Bush started speaking at the December media conference.
"I had the feeling that the blood of innocent people was dropping on my feet during the time that he was smiling and coming to say bye-bye to Iraq with a dinner.
"So I took the first shoe and threw it but it did not hit him. Then spontaneously I took the second shoe but it did not hit him either. I was not trying to kill the commander of the occupation forces of Iraq."
As well as throwing the shoe, Zaidi also insulted Bush verbally, shouting: "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," before security forces wrestled him to the ground.
Zaidi said he had been beaten and tortured while in custody.
His brothers told AFP they wanted to bring torture charges against Bush, Maliki and his bodyguards at a human rights court in either Belgium or Spain.