Civil society concerned over proposed Informatics Crimes Law
Freedom of expression continues to be under severe threat in Iraq. Recently, a TV station was attacked by a group of armed men and had its signal blocked by the authorities in Kurdistan. Meanwhile, civil society has criticised a proposed law under discussion in the Iraqi parliament that aims to regulate the internet.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on 31st August 2017 a group of armed men entered the premises of NRT, an independent broadcaster based in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. The intruders threatened to burn the premises down. The day before, on 30th August 2017 the Kurdish authorities blocked NRT’s broadcast signal for a week “after accusing the channel of not paying broadcasting fees”. Earlier in August, the same broadcaster had receiveda letter from the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission threatening the station with legal action if it continued to broadcast a political satire programme presented by satirist Ahmed Al-Basheer.
According to the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative, civil society has voiced concerns over the proposed Informatics Crimes Law. In particular, on 26th August 2017, at a seminar organised by the Iraqi Women Journalists Forum, participants expressed concerns over the law set to be considered in parliament in the near future. Previous attempts to introduce a similar law in 2012 were unsuccessful, as national and international civil society campaigned against it. A representative from UNESCO, Mr. Diaa Al-Sarrai, said that if approved in its current form, the draft law would limit freedom of expression and threaten the security of activists and the media as “it uses a definition of ‘informatics’ that is different from that which is given by the UN and the draft was written hastily, and is based largely on laws of neighboring countries, many of which are extremely restrictive of citizens’ most basic freedoms”.
In July 2017, the authorities issued arrest warrants for 15 private lawyers representing Da’esh suspects facing trial in Iraqi courts, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The HRW report stated that this action could be perceived as an intimidation tactic and create a chilling effect on those in the legal profession. HRW reiterated that “since the warrants were issued, private lawyers had stopped taking cases of any defendants that they believed to be ISIS-affiliated." HRW requested that the authorities explain the charges and “make it clear that Iraqi lawyers should not be afraid to defend ISIS suspects”.
According to Mawazin news, on 4th August 2017 thousands of members of the Sadrist movement demonstrated in Tahrir Square calling for an end to corruption in Iraq. There were no reports of violence during the protest.
Smaller-scale protests took place in Baghdad in recent weeks, according to the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative. In late July, for example, residents in Husayniyah organised a sit-in protest to demand that the authorities implement service-related projects they had promised to do. There were also reports of protests in other neighborhoods in Baghdad calling for service delivery projects to be implemented.