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12 Mar, 2009 10:36

Shoe-throwing journalist receives 3-year sentence

An Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at then-US President George Bush in a protest against US involvement in Iraq has been sentenced to three years in prison.

On Thursday, Muntazer al-Zaidi has plead not guilty before an Iraqi court in Baghdad. He was charged with attacking a foreign head of state.

Al-Zaidi became an instant celebrity in the country in December, after a media conference where he took off both his shoes and threw them at George Bush, who was in Baghdad on a visit.

The journalist said it was a ‘goodbye kiss’ from the victims of the US invasion into Iraq.

Explaining his actions to the court al-Zaidi said he was spurred by the “violations that are committed against the Iraqi people.”

The defense challenged Bush’s official status during the incident, saying he didn’t have an invitation, and called for a milder punishment.

The court ruled otherwise and sentenced al-Zaidi to three years in prison, which is still less then the maximum 15-year-term he might have received for the deed. Al-Zaidi's lawyer Dhiaa al-Saadi said that he would appeal the sentence.

“This sentence is harsh and is not in harmony with the law, and eventually the defence team will contest this in the appeals court,” he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

Throwing one’s shoes is an act of disdain in Arab culture. Al-Zaidi’s outbreak has made him a hero for many Iraqis and across the Arab world, who staged shoe-throwing protests mimicking the incident.

People in some other countries including Latvia, Ukraine and Britain picked up on the fad, throwing their shoes at people, or images of them, to express their protest.