Monday, December 22, 2008

Speaking too soon

On 16 December, The Times, a newspaper that ardently supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, published a leader which argued that the lenient treatment given to the now famous shoe-thrower, Muntazer al-Zaidi, was a colourful illustration of Iraq's transformation. "Had a protester hurled shoes and shouted insults at Saddam Hussein during the visit of a world leader" the paper reflected, "the perpetrator and all his family would probably have been put to death." The editorial glibly ended: "Iraq is far from perfect, but at least its people have learnt to enjoy freedom of expression."

Freedom of expression can only be enjoyed if it is respected - and in al-Zaidi's instance this does not seem to have been the case. According to the New York Times, who interviewed al-Zaidi's brother, after his arrest the journalist was burned with a cigarette and beaten up in an effort to extract a confession from him. The BBC corroborated this report on Friday by talking to the judge investigating the case. With a furore now raging about the treatment of the journalist the judge has today backtracked somewhat, saying that al-Zaidi was bruised during his arrest, not from his treatment afterwards.

Al-Zaidi is due to be tried for "aggression against a foreign head of state" on 31 December. Presumably by then the prosecutors hope that his bruises will have healed.


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