Remember Muntadar al-Zeidi? The intrepid Iraqi journalist last month went from obscure reporter to international celebrity after hurling his shoes at visiting US President George Bush. He was arrested, beaten, and charged with assaulting a foreign dignitary, facing years of prison time.
The arrest was presented as a testament to the progress Iraq’s criminal justice system has made under the US occupation, with suggestions that under Saddam Hussein Zeidi would likely have been killed for what he did instead of facing an orderly trial.
Yet that trial has been postponed indefinitely. Zeidi was allowed some contact with family and lawyers in the first week after his detention, during which he claimed to have been tortured, and since then the Iraqi government has kept him totally incommunicado. He is being held at an undisclosed location, and neither his family nor his lawyer has been allowed contact with him since December 21.
With no trial forthcoming, no access to legal council or family for nearly a month, and no clue where he is being held, his family fears the worst. His brother Uday predicts “they will kill him in prison.” The Iraqi government denies torturing him, and insists he will receive a fair trial. Either way, the treatment of Zeidi will likely be a major test for Iraq’s legal system, and a message to the Iraqi public on how much things have, or haven’t, changed in the last five and a half years.