Drop the charges against Iraqi shoe-thrower


London, UK — 29 December 2008

The Green Party in the UK is calling on the US and British governments to condemn the torture and prosecution of the Baghdad shoe-thrower, Muntadar al-Zaidi. It is urging the Iraqi government to order his immediate release and the dropping of all charges against him.

If Mr al-Zaidi feels it is no longer safe for him to remain in Iraq, the US and Britain should offer him political asylum, according to the British Greens.

The Bush administration and its UK allies always claimed that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was going to usher in a new era of democracy and human rights in Iraq. The torture and prosecution of the shoe-thrower is an ugly continuation of the abuses that existed under the Baathist dictatorship. It is not what Washington and London told us we should expect in a post-Saddam Iraq.

Mr al-Zaidi is due to stand trial in Baghdad on Wednesday 31 December. He could face between five and 15 years in prison, under draconian Iraqi laws that echo Saddam Hussein’s repressive tyranny.

To express his support for the shoe-thrower, British Green councillor Rupert Read, a leading Green Party candidate in the June 2009 European Parliament elections, has posted a pair of his old shoes, one each to Gordon Brown and George Bush, and put a video of his doing so on the internet.

Mr al-Zaidi’s protest was a courageous, symbolic gesture to challenge the US President’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the mass civilian casualties caused by the war, the use of torture by US military forces and the US attempt to rip off Iraq’s oil wealth.

His heroic, iconic action was in the fine traditions of the young men who burned their draft cards to protest against the US war in Vietnam and of the Black Power salutes by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics in protest at the racist discrimination suffered by African-Americans.

Mr al-Zaidi did not physically harm anyone or cause any damage only embarrassment to President Bush and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Causing embarrassment should not be a crime. To prosecute him for this protest is petty and disproportionate, unbefitting Iraq’s new democracy.

In a slap in the face for the many Iraqis who want a genuine democracy, there is evidence that Mr al-Zaidi has been beaten by prison guards, and his brother says that Muntadar has lost a tooth, has had his ribs broken and has been burned with cigarettes.

Mr Read explained why he posted his shoes to the British Prime Minister and the US President:

"I thought this was a good way to highlight my support for the show-thrower and to remind the government of its duty to defend human rights in Iraq. Maybe if enough of us do this and protest in other ways, then the spotlight of publicity will shame the governments of Iraq, Britain and the US into treating this courageous protester more fairly and humanely."

"Al-Zaidi’s trial starts on 31 December. Let’s get this man, with whom so many of us sympathise, out of prison. The charges against him should be dropped. Given the physical brutality he has already suffered, Muntadar deserves his immediate freedom."

 

Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.
www.greenoxford.com/peter and www.petertatchell.net

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