Iraqi shoe-thrower says he was tortured in prison

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The Independent Online

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George Bush was released today after nine months in prison, and he said Iraqi security forces tortured him with beatings, whippings and electric shocks after his arrest.





Muntadhar al-Zeidi, whose stunning act of protest last December made him a hero around the Arab and Muslim worlds, said he now feared for his life and believed that US intelligence agents would chase after him.



"These fearsome services, the US intelligence services and its affiliated services, will spare no efforts to track me as an insurgent revolutionary ... in a bid to kill me," he told a news conference at the TV station where he works.



"And here I want to warn all my relatives and people close to me that these services will use all means to trap and try to kill and liquidate me either physically, socially or professionally," he said, wearing a scarf in the colours of the Iraqi flag draped around his neck.



The 30-year-old reporter's act of protest deeply embarrassed Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Bush at a 14 December news conference when al-Zeidi suddenly shot up from his chair had hurled his shoes toward the podium.



Bush, who was on his final visit to Iraq as American president, was unhurt but had to duck twice to avoid being hit.



Al-Zeidi was wrestled to the ground by journalists and al-Maliki's security men.



The reporter said today that he was abused immediately after his arrest and the following day. He said he was beaten with iron bars, whipped with cords and was electrocuted in the backyard of the building in the Green Zone where the news conference was held.



"In the morning, I was left in the cold weather after they splashed me with water," he said.



He promised to reveal the names of senior officials in the Iraqi government and army who he said were involved in mistreating him.



An unrepentant al-Zeidi explained that his actions were motivated by the US occupation and said that while he is now free, his country is still "held captive."



"Simply put, what incited me toward confrontation is the oppression that fell upon my people and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by placing it under its boots," he said.



In January 2008, al-Zeidi was arrested by US soldiers who searched his apartment building and released him the next day with an apology.



The year before that, al-Zeidi, a Shiite, was kidnapped by gunmen while on an assignment in a Sunni district of north Baghdad. He was freed unharmed three days later after Iraqi television stations broadcast appeals for his release.



Those experiences, his family has said, helped mold his resentment of the US military's presence in Iraq.



Outside his home in central Baghdad, celebrations erupted at the news of his release, with women crying out and breaking into traditional Iraqi dances.



"I congratulate the Iraqi people and the Muslim world and all free men across the world on the release of Muntadhar," his brother Uday told a crowd of dozens of journalists and others. "Every time Bush turns a new page in his life he will find Muntadhar's shoes waiting for him."



Al-Zeidi's brother said the reporter will travel to Greece on Thursday for medical checkups and because he had concerns about his safety.



"He fears for his life," Uday said, adding that he would sleep at an undisclosed location Tuesday night.



Al-Zeidi's protest stirred millions across the Arab world who have been captivated and angered by images of destruction and grieving since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.



"This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" he shouted at Bush in Arabic as he hurled the shoes. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," he continued.



For days, the scene was played endlessly on regional and international TV channels.



Al-Zeidi was to have been freed Monday, but the release was held up for a day because of delays in processing paperwork.



After his release, al-Zeidi was driven first to the offices of Al-Baghdadiya, the TV station where he works. Later, he is expected to rejoin his family at their apartment in a rundown two-story building in central Baghdad.



His relatives have been preparing for days to welcome him, hanging balloons and posters of the reporter.



Several children from the family gathered outside the home, carrying posters of al-Zeidi that said: "Release the man who restored national unity."



There were also about a dozen sheep and a butcher standing by to slaughter some of them upon al-Zeidi's return in a traditional practice on celebratory occasions.



His protest was widely celebrated and even inspired Internet games and T-shirts and led some to try to offer their daughters to him in marriage. There were also reports that a Saudi man wanted to pay $10 million for one of the shoes.



Shortly after his arrest, a charity run by the daughter of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi bestowed a medal of courage on al-Zeidi.



Al-Zeidi, who turned 30 in prison, was convicted of assault in March. His three-year prison sentence was reduced to one because he had no criminal record before the shoe-throwing incident. He was released three months early for good behavior.



The family says al-Zeidi might use his celebrity status to promote humanitarian causes such as the rights of orphans and women.



His employer, Al-Baghdadiya TV, expects he will return to work as a television reporter for the station, though some have questioned how he would be able to work again as a journalist in Iraq.

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