BAGHDAD – The trial of an Iraqi journalist who gained cult status for throwing his shoes at former President George W. Bush was adjourned Thursday until next month as supporters said he should be praised for standing up to the U.S. "occupier," not punished.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi walked into the courtroom in western Baghdad and was handed a scarf printed with a red, black and green Iraqi flag, which he kissed. Relatives and supporters applauded and chanted "Imam Ali is with you hero," in reference to a revered Shiite Muslim saint.
The 30-year-old television journalist's expression of anger at a joint press conference with Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Dec. 14 energized many in the Middle East who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But al-Maliki was deeply embarrassed by the act against a U.S. president who had stood by him during the worst of the violence in Iraq when some Arab leaders were quietly urging Washington to oust him.
Al-Zeidi's attorneys say he has been charged with assaulting a foreign leader, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. The defense has tried to get the charge reduced, saying the act doesn't merit such harsh punishment.
Defense attorney Dhia al-Saadi Thursday asked the court to call social experts to testify because of what he called the political and psychological nature of the act.
Judge Abdul-Amir al-Rubaie then held a closed session before announcing the trial was postponed until March 12 because the court needs time to ask the Iraqi Cabinet whether Bush's visit was "formal or informal."
Dozens of relatives and supporters gathered outside the courtroom before the trial began, waving banners and calling for al-Zeidi's release.
"We are proud of what Muntadhar has done," said al-Zeidi's sister Doniya, as she stood outside the court Thursday with about 60 other supporters. "Bush was not a guest in Iraq or came by invitation of the Iraqi people. He came as an occupier."
Karim al-Shujeiri, one of al-Zeidi's lawyers, said he met with his client Wednesday and found "his spirits and morale were high, and he was confident in the independence of the Iraqi legal system."
The journalist's aunt, Nawal Lazim, who handed him the scarf as he entered the court, said Iraqis should be proud of al-Zeidi's act.
"What Muntadhar has done is revenge for Iraqi widows and for the bloodshed caused by the occupation and policy of Bush," Lazim said.