Friday, March 13, 2009

The right to protest.

Throughout the world people protest in public in very different ways. In Pakistan black-suited lawyers and flag-waving opposition activists launched a so-called long march from the cities of Karachi and Quetta yesterday, and aim to reach Islamabad on Monday.

In Luton, here in the UK, Muslim anti-war protesters hurled abuse at soldiers yelling "terrorists" and held homemade signs denouncing the soldiers as "butchers of Basra" and "baby killers".

In Northern Ireland people came in their thousands to stand in silence The gatherings took place in Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Downpatrick, and Lisburn, and in Craigavon where Constable Stephen Carroll was murdered, the third member of the security forces to die in three days. The crowds gathered outside Belfast City Hall observed a minute's silence in memory of the security forces killed in separate attacks by dissident republicans.

Muntadhar al-Zaidi was the now famous Iraqi reporter who threw his shoe at President George W Bush. Throwing shoes is a traditional way of showing hatred and contempt in Iraq but Mr Zaidi's action, shown on television around the world, was soon copied in other countries. Mr Zaidi, 30, was a television reporter working for al-Baghdadiyah television when the incident took place, prompting spontaneous demonstrations of support in both Shia and Sunni districts across Iraq, as well as in many other parts of the Muslim world. As he hurled his first shoe Mr Zaidi shouted: "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people – dog."

Now Muntadhar has been sentenced to three years in prison for his protest. Dhiaa al-Saadi, the head of Mr Zaidi's 18-member defence team, condemned the sentence as harsh and said an appeal would be launched. "It was an act of throwing a shoe, not a rocket," he said. "It was meant as an insult to the occupation."

I hope that Muntadhar's appeal is successful because his sentence of three years in prison for protesting is outrageous. People throughout the world must have the right to protest in public. That protest should also reflect local customs and traditions. All Muntadhar has done was to show his disgust at President George W Bush in a traditional Iraqi manner. Muntadhar did not drop his trousers and wave his backside at Dubya to demonstrate his feelings like many a likely lad could have done here in the UK. Muntadhar simply threw his shoe in disgust, which is part of the custom in those parts and the three-judge panel would surely be aware of this local custom. I agree with Muntadhar's sister Ruqaiya when she burst into tears and shouted: "Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans." I believe this sentence was imposed because the judges were not independent but on the payroll of the Americans. This was not justice but an insult to all the Iraqi people.
The cruel twist is that many American and British soldiers died and an obscene number very badly injured (also include journalists, aid workers and others from many other countries) to give the average Iraqi the right to protest. Something they couldn't do under Saddam's reign. This makes it the most expensive and valauble right anyone could have.

But what happens when someone decides to honnor their sacrifice and exercise this right. Bush doesn't like it because its not his view.

That is also an insult to those he sent to war.

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