Image: Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi
Evan Vucci  /  AP file
In this Dec. 2008 file photo, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi throws a shoe at President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq.
updated 4/7/2009 10:34:41 AM ET 2009-04-07T14:34:41

Iraq's highest court reduced the prison sentence Tuesday for an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former President George W. Bush from three years to one, a court spokesman said.

Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, the spokesman, said the decision was taken because the journalist had no prior criminal history. The Federal Appeals Court ruled on the defense's appeal, which cited an Iraqi law stipulating a maximum sentence of two years for publicly insulting a visiting foreign leader.

The decision came as Barack Obama made his first official visit to Iraq as U.S. president .

Muntadhar al-Zeidi was sentenced to three years in March after pleading not guilty to a charge of assaulting a foreign leader. He described his action as a "natural response to the occupation."

The journalist's act during Bush's last visit to Iraq as president turned the 30-year-old reporter into a folk hero across the Arab world, where the former U.S. president is reviled for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Defense attorneys have long argued that al-Zeidi's act was an expression of freedom and not a crime.

'Integrity'
But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has had little sympathy for the journalist, saying the incident was more than just an insult. He described it as an assault on a visiting head of state.

Karim al-Shujairi, one of al-Zeidi's attorneys, said the appeal was filed about a week ago.

"We welcome this fair decision that shows the independence and the integrity of the Iraqi judiciary system," said another al-Zeidi's attorney, Yahya al-Ittabi.

Al-Zeidi has been in Iraqi custody since he hurled shoes at Bush during a joint news conference with al-Maliki in December 2008. He is expected to be released in December 2009, said al-Ittabi.

The news came as a surprise to al-Zeidi's family, who called it "a victory for the Iraqi people."

"We did not expect that my brother would be released before the three years," al-Zeidi's brother, Dargham, told the Associated Press.

More on Iraq | Muntadhar al-Zeidi

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