[JURIST] The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) [establishment order, PDF] on Thursday sentenced Muntadar al-Zaidi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the Iraqi journalist accused of throwing his shoes at former US president George W. Bush, to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign leader. The verdict came after a three week postponement [JURIST report] during which the court considered arguments from al-Zaidi's counsel that Bush's visit was not official and that the assault charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, should not apply because al-Zaidi sought to insult but not injure the US president. Al-Zaidi pleaded innocent Thursday, calling his actions a natural response to the US presence in Iraq. The court rejected his arguments, ruling that Bush's visit was official and opting to sentence al-Zaidi under the assault charge rather than a lesser charge of insulting a foreign leader that is punishable by a maximum of three years. Al-Zaidi's defense team said Thursday that he will appeal the verdict, and also indicated that he may file suit internationally [AFP report] for human rights violations committed against him while in custody [JURIST report].
Al-Zaidi's trial was initially delayed [JURIST report] in December so the court could make a determination of the charges. The trial has been opposed for failing to meet international standards of due process and fairness [HRW report] and has been protested by Iraqis. The shoe-throwing incident occurred at a December 14 joint news conference [transcript] at which Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki [BBC profile] signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [text, PDF; CFR backgrounder] governing the future US military presence in the country. Al-Zaidi, who had allegedly suffered brutality first hand in Iraq having been kidnapped and released by Shiite militiamen in 2007 [Washington Post report], testified to a three-judge panel that his actions were meant to restore Iraqi citizens' pride.