BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Muntadher al-Zaidi, the man seen as a hero in some circles for throwing his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush, was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday by an Iraqi court.
TV reporter Muntadher al-Zaidi, shown in a file photo, was jailed after throwing his shoes at President Bush.
Al-Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in December in Baghdad.
Neither shoe hit the president, and other people in the room quickly knocked al-Zaidi to the ground before security officials arrested him.
Family members and journalists were cleared from the courtroom before Thursday's verdict.
After news of the verdict reached family members, al-Zaidi's brother appeared close to fainting. Other family members were seen crying and shouting curses about al-Maliki and Bush. Watch al-Zaidi's family protest the sentence »
Al-Zaidi was a journalist who worked for the television network al-Baghdadia. The network also called for his release shortly after the incident.
He explained his actions during an hourlong appearance last month in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. Asked whether anyone pushed or motivated him, al-Zaidi said he was spurred by the "violations that are committed against the Iraqi people."
In the Middle East, throwing shoes at someone is traditionally a sign of contempt.
Al-Zaidi's angry gesture touched a defiant nerve throughout the Arab and Muslim world. He is regarded by many people as a hero, and demonstrators took to the streets in the Arab world and called for his release shortly after the incident.
Al-Zaidi, who faced a charge of assaulting a visiting head of state, had 17 lawyers to defend him. There were also three judges in the courtroom, along with the prosecutor and family members.
In December, his defense team told CNN that he could face 15 years in prison if convicted. But al-Zaidi's defense team was hoping to change his charge to an insult rather than assault, which would have brought about three months in prison rather than three years.
CNN's Yousif Bassil and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.