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Defending al-Zaidi, but not journalists at home

The now infamous incident of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at President George Bush became primetime news throughout the world. In the Middle East it has been shown on television almost endlessly. 

A previous entry on the CPJ blog stated that the incident is not a press freedom case, but expressed concern regarding the reported--though unconfirmed--mistreatment of al-Zaidi after he was detained.

As expected, many government officials, state-owned news agencies, and government-aligned organizations in the Middle East have made public statements in support of al-Zaidi. Ironically, most of those countries have a long and thoroughly documented history of repressing journalists themselves.

One can't help but wonder why similar statements of solidarity are rarely issued when local journalists are harassed, imprisoned, or worse.

For instance, press freedom advocates in Egypt and elsewhere recently commemorated the second anniversary of the arrest of Egyptian blogger Abdel Karim Suleiman, better known by the pseudonym Karim Amer. He was sentenced in early 2007 by a court in Alexandria to four years in prison for his critical online articles. Suleiman is just one example of dozens of journalists harassed or imprisoned by Egyptian authorities in recent years.

Aisha al-Qaddafi, daughter of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, announced on Monday that a government-aligned charitable organization which she directs will present a "Medal of Bravery" to al-Zaidi. "It was a means for journalist al-Zaidi to say 'No! No to violations of human rights,' " said a statement released by her organization.

On June 2, 2005, the body of freelance journalist Daif al-Ghazal al-Shuhaibi was found in Benghazi, about 620 miles east of Libya's capital, Tripoli. Al-Shuhaibi, who had been kidnapped about 10 days earlier, had written critical articles about government officials and the state media. A Tripoli court sentenced to death three suspected murderers of freelance journalist Daif al-Ghazal al-Shuhaibi, the journalist's brother told Agence France-Press in mid-July. Details of the prosecution were scant, prompting concern among rights groups about whether the true perpetrators had been brought to justice.

In Jordan, members of Parliament stood silently for one minute to pay homage to al-Zaidi.

In Syria, the speaker of the People's Assembly, Mahmud al-Abrash, praised al-Zaidi and described his act as a "typical reaction to Bush's criminal policies."

In just the last week, the Tunisian, Saudi Arabian, and Syrian governments prevented journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists from their respective countries from traveling to Lebanon to attend the World Association of Newspapers' Arab Press Forum.

Governments in the region might look homeward when considering the rights of journalists. 

UPDATE: Paragraph seven has been updated to include a reported conviction in the death of Daif al-Ghazal al-Shuhaibi, and that human rights groups remain skeptical as to whether justice has been served in the case.

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Comments

An Iraqi journalist decided that he was none too happy with Bush's performance, and set himself on making a statement of protest by throwing his shoes at the President. In America, we'd think a person was nuts for doing this, but in Muslim culture throwing your shoes at a person is the greatest of insults. The name of the journalist is Muntadhar al-Zeidi, and as he hurled his footwear he said, "This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" The statue of Saddam that was toppled a few years ago had numerous shoes thrown at it, to give you an inkling of how serious they take the insult. Bush dodged both loafers, and laughed it off as a "sign of a free society," like financial options like payday loans are. The man was promptly subdued and jailed. Many people across the Muslim world praised the man for his actions, as President Bush's image is not a very popular one in the Middle East. The shoes are currently being held as evidence, and the man awaits trial as he could receive up to two years for the offense.

Sign of a free society?
It looks like al-Zaidi was subjected to a brutal beating, and possibly torture immediately after throwing the shoes. He has since issued apologies and implicated himself as a terrorist in what he alledges were forced confessions. He now faces 5-15 years imprisonment for insulting a foreign head of state.
Free society?
I think not.

he is a brave man. see alzaidi.org for more information. hope you like it .