Iraqi authorities must investigate shoe throwing journalist’s torture allegations

The Iraqi authorities should establish an immediate and independent investigation into allegations by journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, released on Tuesday after serving nine months in prison, that he was tortured by senior – as yet unnamed – government officials, said Amnesty International.

The journalist was sentenced to a three year prison term, later reduced to one year, for throwing his shoes – at former US President George W Bush during a press conference in Baghdad last year.

“The Iraqi authorities have a duty to investigate, promptly, fully and independently, all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including those made by Muntadhar al-Zaidi after his release yesterday, and to prosecute any persons found to be responsible for such abuses,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Muntadhar al-Zaidi has alleged that Iraqi security forces began torturing him immediately after his arrest.

The 30-year-old said he was beaten with iron bars, whipped with cords and subjected to electric shock torture by Iraqi officials in the backyard of a building in the Green Zone area used by US forces in Baghdad.

The correspondent of the Cairo-based Iraqi television channel al-Baghdadiya threw his shoes at President Bush on 14 December 2008 during a joint press conference between the US leader and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

Al-Zaidi was given a three year sentence for publicly insulting a foreign head of state, which was later commuted on appeal to one year. He was released three months early for good behaviour.

Shortly after his arrest, Amnesty International called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations, made by his family, that Muntadhar al-Zaidi had been beaten and assaulted after he was taken into custody, and to ensure his safety in detention, but received no response.

Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi security forces remains common and widespread. In recent years, the government has announced investigations into several high profile cases of alleged torture but the outcome of these has rarely been made known.