Mr Zaidi's lawyers say he was making a legitimate protest
Mr Zaidi's lawyers say he was making a legitimate protest

An Iraqi journalist hailed as a hero in the Arab world for throwing his shoes at former US President George W Bush has been jailed for three years.

Muntadar al-Zaidi had told the court his actions were “natural, just like any Iraqi” against a leader whose forces had occupied his country.

Shoe hurling is a grave insult in Arab culture, but Mr Bush – on a farewell trip to Iraq – shrugged off the attack.

Defence lawyers described the sentence as “harsh” and said they would appeal.

The head of Zaidi’s team Dhiaa al-Saadi said the sentence was “not in harmony with the law” because his client had not meant to cause injury, but rather to express contempt for Mr Bush.

There has been no statement about the verdict from the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, which correspondents say suffered acute embarrassment over the incident.

‘Response to occupation’

The BBC’s Mike Sergeant who was at Thursday’s court hearing says relatives and supporters of the defendant came to court expecting him to be released.

Asked by presiding judge Abdul-Amir al-Rubaie if he was innocent or guilty, Zaidi replied: “I am innocent. What I did was a natural response to the occupation.”

After the final arguments by the defence lawyers, everyone was told to leave the room. The judges deliberated for a further 15 minutes, and an increasingly frustrated crowd gathered outside.

When news of the sentence filtered through, some relatives began to cry and scream insults at the judges.

They shouted “It’s an American court”, “He’s a hero”, “Down with President Bush” and “God is great”.