attorney who defended shoe-throwing iraqi journalist still receives threats for taking on sensitive cases

by Tim Phillips

The Iraqi journalist who threw both of his shoes at former president George W. Bush – “with widely admired aim” – has apparently been embraced around the Arab world. Yet one of the members of his defense team still receives threats for taking on sensitive cases. The attorney, Thair al-Qassim, has also been kidnapped, forced to pay a $40,000 ransom when his son was kidnapped and severely beaten, and has survived hand grenade attacks due to the cases on which he works. (In his words, “I defend Sunnis against Shi’ites or Shi’ites against Sunnis.”)

Muntader al-Zaidi served nine months in prison for the shoe-throwing incident. Before his trial, he was beaten and tortured while in custody, resulting in a broken arm, internal bleeding, and broken ribs. His family received threatening calls. Upon his release, he had this to say:

It humiliated me to see my country humiliated; and to see my Baghdad burned, my people killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation. … I travelled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved.

More than 100 lawyers from across the region offered to represent Zaidi free of charge after the incident, including one who had represented Saddam Hussein. Once on the defense team, however, Qassim received a phone call from someone telling him to abandon the case or he or his family would be killed. Indeed, many Iraqi attorneys receive constant threats due to the cases they take on, but Qassim – unlike some of the other attorneys who have been threatened – has not given up his practice.

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