IRAQ’s highest court yesterday reduced the prison sentence for an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former US president, George W Bush, from three years to one, a court spokesman said.
Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, the spokesman, said the decision was taken because the journalist had no prior criminal history.
The defence appealed the original ruling to the Federal Appeals Court citing an Iraqi law stipulating a maximum sentence of only two years for publicly insulting a visiting foreign leader.
The decision came as US President Barack Obama made his first official visit to Iraq as president.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi was sentenced to three years in March after pleading not guilty to a charge of assaulting a foreign leader.
He described his action as a “natural response to the occupation”.
The journalist’s act during Bush’s last visit to Iraq as president turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world, where the former US president is reviled for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Defence attorneys have long argued that al-Zeidi’s act was an expression of freedom and not a crime, and his lawyer yesterday said that he should be freed immediately.
“We think al-Zeidi does not deserve to be imprisoned even for one day,” said al-Zeidi’s chief defence attorney, Diaa al-Saadi.
Another al-Zeidi attorney, Yahya al-Ittabi, however, welcomed the court’s decision, saying it did not bow to government pressure and reflected “the independence and the integrity of the Iraqi judiciary system”.
But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has had little sympathy for the journalist, describing the incident as an assault on a visiting head of state.
Al-Zeidi has been in custody since he hurled shoes at Bush during a joint news conference with al-Maliki in December.
Though al-Zeidi is scheduled to be released this December, he could be free within five months with credit for good behaviour.
Al-Zeidi’s family called the ruling “a victory for the Iraqi people”.
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