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December 16, 2008

Perhaps the world’s most famous shoe-thrower, Muntadhar al-Zeidi is in prison in an “undisclosed location”. BBC released the story that Zeidi’s brother reported that he is being beaten in custody in an Iraqi jail. The Iraqi TV station Al-Sharqiya just reported Zeidi has been brutally tortured, with broken ribs, signs of torture on his thighs, and he can’t move his right arm. He is not authorized to talk to press, and could face seven years in prison for what the White House calls an “audience interruption”.


Al Baghdadiya, the TV channel that Zeidi worked for, has reported that an Iraqi parliamentarian has confirmed that Zeidi’s hand was broken in jail. (Thanks to Raed Jarrar for the translation. Check back on his blog for more updates.)

The New York Times has called on President Bush to “make clear to Baghdad that the United States does not condone abuse of defendants and that it expects Mr. al-Zaidi to have a speedy trial, a fair process and access to a competent lawyer.”

Of course, Bush hasn’t done that and continues to just make shoe jokes as Zeidi is being tortured. (So sign the petition.)

Reporters Without Borders has just called “the release of Muntadar al-Zaidi who has been held by the Iraqi authorities for two days.”

This is the story of an Iraqi journalist reporting from Iraq–one of the few brave souls who would dare to do so in the country where according to Reporters without Borders, more journalists have been killed than other country in the world since WWII.

The symbolism of the “shoe throw” just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Zeidi reported from the U.S. onslaught of the air bombing of Sadr City last spring. Sadr City is roughly half the size of Manhattan, or the same size as Southeast DC. Unlike either, this area of Baghdad houses more than 3 million Iraqis. It is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet–denser than Calcutta, Gaza, Rio, or some of the other world’s worst slums.

Now imagine you are in such a place and you watch bombs falling from the sky. How do you make sure that no civilians get killed when bombs are dropped on six story buildings with tight alleyways?

You don’t.

This two year old boy was killed from an air strike in Sadr City. More than 900 civilians were killed in 6 weeks of clashes between the U.S. backed Iraqi army and the anti-occupation militia of Moqtada al-Sadr’s–that’s about 150 each week. (Pretty average death toll for the whole of Iraq per week these days.) The official U.S. response to the child’s death: “The sole burden of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the militants who care nothing for the Iraqi people.”

There is absolutely no way to avoid killing civilians when bombing such a heavily populated area–I don’t care how “smart” your bombs are. When Zeidi was reporting from this area of massive civilian casualties, friends of Zeidi said it “emotionally influenced” him. Other experiences that made a lasting impact on his political views included being kidnapped twice–once by a Sunni militant group and then later detained by American soldiers.

“He hates the American physical occupation as much as he hates the Iranian moral occupation,” Dhirgham said, alluding to the influence of pro-Iranian Shiite clerics in political and social life. “As for Iran, he considers the regime to be the other side of the American coin.”

If you don’t think that someone should face potentially seven years in prison for throwing a shoe at Bush, if you believe that there is a good reason why journalism is the only career protected by the U.S. Constitution, if you believe that a journalist’s hand–the most important tool of freedom of speech–should not be crushed join Noam Chomsky in signing this petition to the Iraqi embassy to free Zeidi. (No joke–not a forgery).

Raed Jarrar will be hand delivering the petition to the Iraqi embassy, so in the meantime spread the word far and wide to gather more signatures to protect the freedom of speech in Iraq.

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