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When US defies law, Iraqi journalists will look to other ways to make their protest over injustice

Iraqi journalists will look to other ways to make their protest
A man holds a mock poster of US President George W Bush with a 'War criminal' written in Arabic during a protest in Najaf, Iraq, Monday, December 15, 2008. Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, while cursing him in Arabic.Photo: Associated Press (AP) / Alaa al-Marjani

Press freedom groups have called for the release of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi who has been arrested for throwing his shoes at George W Bush at a Baghdad press conference during a surprise visit by the US president on Sunday.

“We obviously regret that the journalist used this method of protest against the politics of the American president," Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “But for humanitarian reasons and to ease tension, we call for the release of Muntadar al-Zaidi who has been held by the Iraqi authorities for two days. Given the controversy surrounding this incident, we urge the Iraqi security services to guarantee the physical wellbeing of this journalist, who was clearly injured during his arrest."

“While we do not approve of this kind of behaviour as a means of expressing an opinion or convictions, the relaxed way in which George W Bush spoke about the incident afterwards, should give the Iraqi authorities all the more reason to show leniency”, RSF said.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) too has demanded that al-Zaidi be set free. His protest, IFJ said, reflected deep anger at the treatment of Iraqi civilians during the US occupation over the past four years of which journalists have been major victims.

"This journalist was expressing his own deeply-felt views and we cannot condone his actions," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "but after years of intimidation, mistreatment and unsolved killings at the hands of US soldiers, it is no surprise that there is anger and resentment among journalists."

It is no coincidence, IFJ said, that the protest came only days after the US refused to release a detained journalist, despite an Iraqi court order that he should be set free. "When the US appears to defy the rule of law in Iraq, it is no surprise that journalists will look to other ways to make their protest over injustice," said White.

IFJ is also warning that the journalist may be under threat while in detention given the record of mistreatment of journalists in custody by US forces. It is supporting its affiliate the Iraqi Union of Journalists (IUJ) which has called for al-Zaidi to be released and for his safety to be guaranteed. IFJ is also calling on the government to make good on its commitment to conduct a full investigation into the deaths of Iraqi journalists since the start of the US occupation. The IUJ counts 284 journalists killed in Iraq since April 2003.

Meanwhile, head of operations at the interior ministry, Abdel Karim Khalaf, told RSF that al-Zaidi had been caught red handed and that he faced proceedings under Articles 223, 225 and 227 of the Iraqi criminal code. The journalist could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison for “insulting a foreign head of state”. al-Zaidi is being examined by judges in connection with the investigation. Khalaf said the he had not been subjected to any ill-treatment before concluding, “A journalist’s only weapons are words”.

Date posted: December 16, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 373