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World’s people rally to defend Iraqi journalist

Published Dec 22, 2008 5:53 PM

What sound do falling shoes make? How far can they be heard? Around the world is the answer in the case of the shoes hurled at outgoing U.S. president George W. Bush on Dec. 14 by Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi.

The determination of the Iraqi peoples’ resistance could not be denied, not even in a press conference held in the U.S.-fortified “Green Zone” in Baghdad where Bush and U.S.-puppet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki performed a ceremonial signing of the Status of Forces Agreement.

Al-Zaidi shouted, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” as he flung his second shoe, projecting an extreme insult and expression of contempt in Arab culture. A global outcry is hailing his courageous act and demanding the safe release of the 29-year-old reporter, who has not been seen since his arrest.

On Dec. 19 thirty members of the al-Zaidi family, joined by a woman member of the Iraqi parliament, gathered to ask for his release outside the Green Zone, where both the Iraqi government and the prison holding the journalist are located.

His brother, Uday al-Zaidi, refuted a reported hand-written letter of apology from al-Zaidi to al-Maliki requesting a pardon. “This apology is not a real one. If they (the government) want an apology, they must first release him so he can do it freely and not under pressure.” (www.middle-east-online.com, Dec. 19) Unable to visit the detained journalist to confirm his condition, family members charged that he had suffered torture and beatings.

Iraqi magistrate Dhia al-Kinani, who is responsible for the initial investigation of charges against al-Zaidi, has opened an investigation into visible face and eye injuries suffered by him.

Demonstrations for al-Zaidi’s release began in Iraq immediately as the video of his protest zipped through cyberspace. Demonstrations erupted in Baghdad, Nasreya, Falluja and Kirkuk in Iraq and Gaza City in occupied Palestine. On Dec. 16 a large group of students and teachers demanded his release in the Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriya. (www.menassat.com, Dec. 17)

Demonstrations continued Dec. 17 in Karachi, Pakistan, and at the Iraqi embassy in Ankara, Turkey. In Caracas, Venezuela, protesters targeted the U.S. embassy. Students at Lebanese University in Beirut burned Bush in effigy. The Sudanese Journalist Union issued a statement on Dec. 17 affirming al-Zaidi’s “vehement rejection of the occupation his country has been subjected to.” It held the Iraqi government responsible for any harm to him. In Washington, D.C., Code Pink bashed a Bush effigy with shoes.

In New York City on Dec. 17, Bail Out the People activist Steve Millies spoke out against a proposed MTA fare hike, especially for disabled riders, and was swarmed by police when he reached down to take off his shoe. “I wanted to show the sole of the shoe as a sign of contempt for someone who makes so much money and yet wants to raise fares on the disabled,” he told Workers World.

Millies’ gesture was planned with al-Zaidi in mind. “I was very much inspired by that courageous Iraqi journalist who was protesting the occupation of his country by the American and British oil companies and their governments,” Millies said.

On Dec. 18 support actions for al-Zaidi hit New Delhi, India; Sidon and the Iraqi embassy in Beirut, Lebanon; and Ankara, Turkey. In Cairo, Egyptian journalists held up shoes in solidarity.

In London on Dec. 19, Media Workers Against the War from the Stop the War Coalition shook shoes and piled them at the U.S. Embassy. Their call stated, “The swift incarceration of this journalist contrasts sharply with the treatment of war criminals Bush and Blair. Their decision to go to war in 2003 has led to the deaths of up to a million Iraqi civilians.”

“Palestinians in the West Bank village of Bilin threw shoes protesting the apartheid wall. (www.thestate.com, Dec. 19)

Al-Zaidi’s threatened prison term has decreased from 15 years to two years. But as the BRussell’s Tribunal (Belgium) pointed out, the journalist remains in grave danger and needs protection:

“International humanitarian and human rights law outlaws torture and summary execution, incommunicado detention, the ill treatment of detainees, or denial of access to legal counsel. The U.S. occupation is directly responsible for Al-Zaidi’s welfare and must guarantee his security. As a journalist, he must be afforded extra protection.

“Appeal for action: Following Al-Zaidi’s action, thousands have taken to the street in his support and countless statements are being written in his defense. We salute his courage, demand to know his exact location, and join millions in demanding his immediate release. ...

“We call upon all human rights organizations and bodies, including responsible organs of the United Nations, along with journalists’ syndicates and associations, to defend the right to security and life of Muntadar Al-Zaidi and work to ensure his immediate release.” (brusselstribunal.org, Dec. 15)