Iraq draft laws could smother freedom of press, expression, warns Amnesty

Iraq draft laws could smother freedom of press, expression, warns Amnesty
3 min read
18 July, 2023
Two draft laws re-introduced to Iraq’s parliament will seriously limit freedom of expression and peaceful protest if passed, Amnesty International has said.
More than 600 Iraqis died during a popular protest movement that began in 2019 [Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty]

Two draft laws re-introduced to Iraq's parliament will seriously limit freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in the country if passed, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The re-introduced draft laws - one on freedom of expression and the other with the alleged aim of tackling cybercrime - came amid a crackdown on criticism of government figures, as well as an interior ministry-led campaign to shut down what it calls "indecent content" online, the rights group said.

Amendments to both draft laws are currently being privately discussed by lawmakers.

"The Iraqi government should immediately withdraw these repressive draft laws and parliament should not pass any laws that would unduly restrict the human rights of Iraqis," said Bissan Fakih, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner for Iraq and Yemen.

The proposed draft Law on Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly would allow Iraqi authorities to arbitrarily prosecute anyone who makes public comments that violate "public morals" or "public order", Amnesty said.

The draft law also prohibits the undermining of "religions, religious beliefs, sects", the rights group said. Some religious figures hold significant political power in Iraq, so banning criticism of them would severely limit people's right to free expression. 

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Those caught "publicly insulting a ritual or a symbol or a person who constitutes an object of sanctification, worship or reverence to a religious sect" could face up to 10 years and a fine worth thousands of dollars, according to Amnesty.

'The people of Iraq have a right to criticise their leaders and religious figures, and to protest peacefully without fear of imprisonment and heavy fines," Fakih said.

"These rights are especially important at a time when the Iraqi people are seeking to hold government officials accountable for allegations of systemic corruption and human rights violations."

The draft law can also see authorities ban public gatherings unless prior permission is obtained at least five days in advance. It does not state what criteria the Iraqi authorities would apply in approving or prohibiting protests, in effect giving them carte blanche power to ban protests.

Iraqi protesters already operate in an incredibly hostile and dangerous environment, facing abduction or even death at the hands of militias. Iraqi security forces also routinely use lethal force in their crackdown on demonstrations. More than 600 Iraqis died during a popular protest movement that began in 2019.

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Under the proposed draft Law on Cybercrimes, posters of online content that is deemed to undermine “country’s supreme economic, political, military, or security interests” could face life in prison and a fine of up to 50 million Iraqi dinars (around $38,000).

Iraqi human rights advocates and journalists have previously warned that such anti-cybercrime legislation could seriously hamper freedom of expression and the press.

Iraq currently ranks 167th of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index.