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Iraq: Parliament postpones vote on draft law on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration after popular protests

2017-05-17

On 13 May 2017, the relevant parliamentary committees decided to postpone the vote on Iraq’s draft law on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration for an indefinite period, following widespread popular protests against it. The efforts exerted by representatives of civil society who entered the Parliament building and held a series of meetings with these committees resulted in the postponement by Members of Parliament of the vote, which was scheduled to take place on 15 May 2017.

The draft law was first submitted to Parliament in 2011 and then again in subsequent years but has been postponed for discussion several times due to a number of vague articles, in addition to being in explicit violation of the Iraqi Constitution.

According to Article 38 of the Constitution,

“The State shall guarantee in a way that does not violate public order and morality:

A. Freedom of expression using all means.

B. Freedom of press, printing, advertisement, media and publication.

C. Freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, and this shall be regulated by law.”

One of the most blatant examples of the draft law targeting journalists and freedom of expression is the amendment of Article (13), which states in its second paragraph the following:

“A punitive sentence of no less than (1) one year and a fine of no less than (1 000 000) one million Dinars and no more than (10 000 000) ten million Dinars shall be given to anyone who:

E. Publicly insults a worship, or symbol or person that is subject of reverence, glorification or respect by a religious community.”

On 14 May 2017, a large demonstration was organised in which civil society organisations, trade unions and labour unions participated, and a large number of citizens raised several slogans rejecting this bill, including the slogans "No to silence mouths", and "No to suppress mouths ... No to prevent the freedom of peaceful demonstration."

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on the Iraqi Parliament to fulfill its fundamental duty to protect the Iraqi constitution, which stipulates in Article 38 the protection of public freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of demonstration. GCHR also calls upon the Parliament to maintain Iraq's international obligations as a signatory since 1971 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which obliges the parties to respect the civil, political and humanitarian rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and assembly, electoral rights and procedural rights to fair litigation and fair trial.