The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush was viciously beaten after being taken into custody, according to a police officer who accompanied him to prison.
Wrestled to the ground and then buried under a frantic mound of security officers, Muntadar al-Zeidi was last seen being dragged into detention.
Controversy has since raged over what treatment was meted out to the man hailed a hero in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world for his protest against the invasion of Iraq. Yesterday there were further demonstrations in the Middle East calling for his immediate release.
Witnesses to his arrest and imprisonment have said Zeidi was badly beaten, during and after his arrest, and that he risks losing the sight in one of his eyes.
Zeidi is expected to be charged with insulting a foreign leader, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years. His family have received offers from hundreds of lawyers willing to represent him.
An Iraqi judge said Zeidi had bruises on his face and around his eyes. These, said the judge, had been sustained during his arrest at the Baghdad news conference during which Zeidi threw his shoes at Bush, shouting: "This is the farewell kiss, you dog."
His family, who have been denied access to him, have claimed he suffered far more extensive injuries and was subjected to a prolonged and vicious beating, suffering a broken arm, broken ribs and internal bleeding. The allegations appear to be borne out by others.
One police officer who accompanied him to prison said the journalist, a Baghdad correspondent for Cairo's Al-Baghdadia TV, had been subjected to violence throughout the journey. The officer, who asked not to be named, said he witnessed security forces beating Zeidi in the car with such force that his ribs were broken.
"I felt sorry when I saw them beating him. His mouth was badly injured and he did not utter a single word throughout until one of the guards hit him in his left eye with a gun. Then he cried out that he couldn't see, and I saw blood inside his eye. I am a police officer but even I have to say I felt proud of what he did."
A doctor called to examine Zeidi said his right arm had been broken and he had haematomas - indicative of internal bleeding - all over his body, particularly on his left leg, shoulders, face and head. The doctor, who also asked to remain anonymous, said specialists called in to treat him warned security guards that they must make sure his eye was protected for fear of a further haemorrhage which could cause him to lose his sight.
Zeidi's family allege that it is because of the severe nature of
his injuries that he has not been called before a public court.
Born into a traditional Shiite family, Zeidi made no secret of his vehement opposition to the US-led occupation of Iraq and, according to family and friends, had said many times he would like revenge on Bush.
A younger brother, Haythem, said Zeidi had unexpectedly found himself called on to cover the press conference held by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. His first action, it seems, was to return home immediately to change his foreign-made shoes for Iraqi-made ones.
A colleague at the TV station said Zeidi mentioned just before going home that "if something had to be done, it had to be 100 per cent Iraqi".
His family believe his actions may have placed both them and himself in danger and claim to have received threatening calls.