By Richard Kerbaj in Baghdad
September 15, 2009
Prison doctors repeatedly injected “unknown substances” into the reporter who threw his shoes at the former US President George Bush, his family claimed yesterday.
The Iraqi was also allegedly tortured with cigarettes and had his nose and ribs broken.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, who became a hero in the Arab world for attacking Mr Bush, is scheduled to be flown to Greece for treatment on his expected release from prison today.
His eldest brother, Uday, told The Times that hospital specialists in Greece were expecting the reporter’s arrival after his visa was recently approved.
“We decided as a family for him to go for physical and psychological treatment in Greece,” Uday said at his brother’s flat in central Baghdad. One of Mr al-Zaidi’s three brothers will accompany him.
Mr al-Zaidi, 30, who was convicted in March of assault after hurling his shoes at Mr Bush at a press conference last December, was expected to be released yesterday. His release was postponed by a day after officials cited a delay in processing his paperwork.
Uday alleged that his brother, a television journalist, was given injections by prison staff against his will. He said that doctors told his brother that they were treating him for migraines and stress.
“They injected him with substances but he had no idea what they were,” he said. “Every time he tried to refuse having the injections, the doctors would say, ‘You don’t know our job better than we do’.”
Mr al-Zaidi was imprisoned at an Iraqi military compound at the former Al-Muthana Airport in Baghdad. Uday said that his brother was burned with “cigarettes behind his ears, had his ribs and nose broken”. He said that the torture was the result of Mr al-Zaidi’s refusal to write and sign a letter of apology to Mr Bush and to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing next to the President during the incident.“When Muntazer called me this morning he sounded very broken because the prison guards would not let him call us for ten days,” Uday said.
Mr al-Zaidi plans to set up a human rights group, his brother said. He will not return to journalism despite receiving a salary from Al-Baghdadia Television while in prison. Nor will he venture into politics.
“He will not go into politics, contrary to what has been said in the past. He wants to do something to help the Iraqi people,” Uday said.
“And he has done more to help Iraqi people with his defiance than any politician has.”
Mr al-Zaidi’s three-year sentence was cut to one year on appeal because he had no criminal record. He is expected to be released three months early for good behaviour.