BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The trial of an Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad has been postponed pending an appeal over whether the incident amounted to an assault, his lawyer has said.
TV journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi is charged with assault against a foreign head of state, which could carry a 15-year prison term, after he hurled both his shoes at Bush during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki this month and called him a dog.
Al-Zaidi's lawyer Dhiaa al-Saadi told Reuters the defense was appealing to have the charge reduced to insulting a visiting head of state, which would carry a two-year maximum sentence, because throwing shoes could not have put Bush in actual danger.
"Have you ever heard of anyone being killed by a shoe?" al-Saadi said. "In Europe, they throw eggs and rotten tomatoes to insult. In Iraq, throwing a shoe is a symbol of disrespect."
Iraqi High Judicial Council spokesman Abdul Satar Birqadr said al-Zaidi's appeal request would be examined, resulting in a delay in the trial, which was to have begun on December 31.
"Due to a legal appeal presented by defendant Muntadhir al-Zaidi's lawyers to the Federal Appeal Court, the case has been referred to this court for study," Birqadr said in a statement. "Therefore, the Central Criminal Court has adjourned the case pending [its] ruling."
U.S.-backed al-Maliki has condemned the outburst, which made al-Zaidi an icon in Iraq and the Middle East. Public sympathy for the shoe thrower means al-Maliki may wish to avoid a tough punishment being imposed on al-Zaidi ahead of provincial elections next month.
The trial will be closely watched for signs of unfair treatment. The defendant's lawyer has said his client was severely beaten following the incident.
Two brothers who have visited al-Zaidi in prison in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone compound say he bears signs of having been abused, including a missing tooth, and bruises on his arms and legs. His lawyer also says al-Zaidi was initially denied legal representation.