World

Judges give Iraqi shoe thrower 3 years in prison

The Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at former U.S. president George W. Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign leader.

The Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at former U.S. president George W. Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign leader.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi had pleaded not guilty to the charge earlier on Thursday. But the prison sentence was handed down by the panel of three judges after a short trial, al-Zeidi's defence lawyer, Mohammed al-Abboudi, told reporters.

Al-Zeidi shouted "long live Iraq" as the sentence was read amid tight security at the courthouse, where hundreds had come to see the trial and gather in the streets.

Al -Zeidi has been incarcerated since Dec. 14, when he hurled two shoes at Bush and called him a "dog" during a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

The incident was televised around the world and propelled al-Zeidi to hero status among many in the Arab world.

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes is a sign of contempt. Many Iraqis believe al-Zeidi was a hero for insulting an American president widely blamed for the chaos that has engulfed the country since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

Al-Zeidi had told the judge that his actions were a "natural response to the occupation."

Al-Zeidi faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for the assault charge.

Lawyers who were in the courtroom when the sentence was delivered said the judges showed leniency because of al-Zeidi's age and clean record.

"This sentence is harsh and is not in harmony with the law, and eventually the defence team will contest this in the appeals court," Dhia al-Saadi, the head attorney in al-Zeidi's defence team, told Reuters.

Al-Zeidi's defence team had argued their client's actions were protected by free speech and the charge was not applicable because Bush was not in Baghdad on an official visit, arriving unannounced and without an invitation.

Presiding Judge Abdul-Amir al-Rubaie said Thursday the prime minister's office has stated that the visit was considered official and was part of Bush's farewell world tour leading up the end of his presidency.

With files from the Associated Press

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