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Iraq judge orders investigation into alleged beating of shoe-throwing journalist

[JURIST] Iraqi judge Dhia Al Kinani Friday announced an investigation into the alleged beating of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi. Al-Zaidi was allegedly beaten after throwing his shoes at US President George W. Bush [official website] on December 14 during a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] where the two leaders discussed the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF; CFR backgrounder]. Al-Zaidi is charged with offending the head of a foreign state and could face up to seven years in prison. He appeared before a judge last week behind closed doors, leading some to believe that he was beaten [Telegraph report] while in custody. Since the incident, al-Zaidi has been wildly popular throughout the Arab world. Despite public pressure to release the journalist, it is unlikely he will be released without trial [TIME report].

Al-Zaidi has allegedly suffered brutality first hand in Iraq having been kidnapped and released by Shiite militiamen in 2007 [Washington Post report]. He threw his shoes just after Bush finished his remarks celebrating the SOFA and expressing solidarity with the Iraqi government. The SOFA sets a 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops. It was approved by the Iraqi presidential council [JURIST report] earlier this month and will go into effect on January 1, 2009, a day after the current UN Mandate authorizing the US presence in Iraq expires. In addition to the official deadlines for troop withdrawal, the SOFA gives Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction [JURIST report] over American military personnel and eliminates immunity [JURIST report] for US defense contractors working within Iraq.

~12/22/08 - Al-Zaidi's trial is set to begin on December 31.

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