THE Iraqi television reporter jailed for throwing his shoes at former US president George W Bush was freed yesterday and said he was tortured by electric shocks and simulated drowning in custody.
Muntazer al-Zaidi had been behind bars ever since he shouted “it is the farewell kiss, you dog,” at Bush last December 14, seconds before hurling his size-10s at the man who ordered the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Speaking at the office of his employer at the time of the incident, Al-Baghdadia television, Zaidi — who was missing a front tooth — said: “I was tortured with electric shocks, beaten with cables.”
The reporter’s tone was defiant but he denied that he was a hero, saying he had been ashamed of the suffering he had seen in his country and had seized the opportunity to insult the man he held responsible.
“For me it was a good response; what I wanted to do in throwing my shoes in the face of the criminal Bush was to express my rejection of his lies and of the occupation of my country,” Zaidi said.
He added: “At the time that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on television that he could not sleep without being reassured on my fate... I was being tortured in the worst ways, beaten with electric cables and iron bars.”
The 30-year-old reporter said he wanted an apology from al-Maliki, adding that his guards had also used simulated drowning on him — the technique of water-boarding used by the Americans on suspects arrested over the September 11 terror attacks.
“I am now free but my country is still captive. I am not a hero, but I have attitude and opinions,” he said. “I feel humiliated to see my country suffer, my Baghdad burning, and my people killed.”
Television pictures earlier showed the reporter, wearing a sash in the colours of the Iraqi national flag around his shoulders, and sporting sunglasses and a thick beard, being led into the studios of his employer.
The journalist’s family and friends heard the news by telephone at their home in Baghdad.
Zaidi was due to have been released on Monday but his brothers and sisters were left in tears when legal red tape delayed his homecoming.
Although the reporter’s prison time had expired, Iraqi inmates often find their liberty held up for several days to allow the necessary prison release documents to be signed and approved.
Zaidi was initially sentenced to three years for assaulting a foreign head of state but had his jail time reduced to one year on appeal. His sentence was cut further on account of good behaviour.
Zaidi faces the prospect of a very different life from his previous existence as a journalist for Al-Baghdadia, a small, privately-owned station, which continued to pay his salary in jail.
Zaidi’s boss has promised the previously little-known reporter a new home as a reward for loyalty and the publicity that his actions generated for the station.
But there is talk of plum job offers from bigger Arab networks, lavish gifts such as sports cars from businessmen, guaranteed celebrity status, and reports that Arab women from Baghdad to the Gaza Strip want to marry him.
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