A Baghdad court sentenced an Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at former U.S. president George W. Bush to three years in prison on Thursday.
Muntazer al-Zaidi worked for al-Baghdadiya television, and earned instant worldwide fame when he threw his shoes at Bush at a news conference in December, calling him a dog.
"This sentence is harsh and is not in harmony with the law, and eventually the defense team will contest this in the appeals court," said Dhiaa al-Saadi, the head of Zaidi's defence team.
Zaidi's sister Ruqaiya burst into tears, shouting "Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans," referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Zaidi's brother, Uday, said the verdict was politically motivated.
Zaidi had pleaded not guilty at the hearing in the Iraq Central Criminal Court to assaulting Bush during his farewell visit to Iraq last year.
"He was sentenced to three years in jail," defense lawyer Yahia Attabi told reporters outside the Baghdad court.
"We expected the decision because under the Iraqi criminal code he was charged with assaulting a foreign leader on an official visit," Attabi said, adding: "We will appeal this decision."
Zaidi, whose shoe-hurling gesture is considered a grave insult in the Arab and Muslim world, had risked up to 15 years in jail on the charge of aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit.
The former U.S. president, deeply unpopular in the Arab world for ordering the 2003 invasion of Iraq, had been at a globally-televised media conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki when Zaidi let rip with his shoes, zinging them at Bush, who managed to duck just in time.
When Judge Abdulamir Hassan al-Rubaie asked Zaidi if he was innocent, the journalist responded: "Yes, my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi (would have done)."
After the verdict, his 25-strong defense team emerged to scenes of chaos outside the court, where several family members screamed: "It's an American court... sons of dogs."
my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi (would have done)
Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi
Popular way of expression
Wearing a light-brown suit, brown sweatshirt and thin-framed glasses, Zaidi had been brought into the packed courtroom under a heavy police escort.
Chief defense lawyer Ehiya al-Sadi had argued that his client's motives were "honorable."
"He was only expressing his feelings. What he could see was the blood of Iraqis at his feet when he watched the U.S. president speaking about his achievements in Iraq."
He also argued that although Iraqi law considered it an attack on a visiting head of state, "his throwing of the shoe did not cause any injury or damage."
The trial first opened on Feb. 19 but was adjourned to determine the nature of Bush's Dec. 14 visit. The judge told the court that government ministers had declared it official.
Throwing shoes became a popular way of expressing anger and discontent, with public figures ranging from the Israeli ambassador in Sweden to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao targeted in protest and symbolic shoe-throwing events held throughout the world. (See Short Documentaries on AlArabiya.net's Video forum http://evideo.alarabiya.net/ShowClip.aspx?ClipID=2009.01.15.10.48.40.357)