Draft law restricts freedom of expression and peaceful protest in Iraq

Expression

Freedom of expression continues to be seriously threatened in Iraq, with three journalists having been killed since the last update. Threats against journalists continue and a proposed new law could damage freedom of expression if it is approved by the Iraqi parliament.

On 15th June, photojournalist Fadil Al-Garaawi was killed when a mortar round struck a group of journalists and members of the security forces in Fallujah. On 13th July, Ali Mahmoud, an Iraqi cameraman working for the Al-Ghadeer satellite channel, was killed when a car he was travelling in was hit by a bomb set by Daesh in southern Mosul. Another media worker, Ali Jawad, was injured in the attack. 

On 13th August, journalist Wedat Hussein Ali who worked with Rojnews was kidnapped by an unknown armed group in Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan. His body was later found with signs that he had been tortured. According to Rojnews, prior to his disappearance Ali had been repeatedly summoned to appear before the Kurdish security forces.

Journalists have also faced threats and harassment from the Iraqi parliament. On 26th July, the Iraqi parliament issued a statement threatening journalist and head of the Iraqi Journalists' Rights' Defense Association (IJRDA) Ibrahim Al-Saragey in connection with a statement he had made criticising a proposed law which would give more privileges to MPs

Iraqi civil society organisations and bloggers have expressed grave concerns about a proposed new law discussed by parliament in July which will further restrict freedom of expression in Iraq. According to the Iraqi Civil Society Initiative, the proposed law could seriously damage Iraqi civil society and increase the number of cases of judicial harassment of journalists recorded every year. The law also imposes a minimum one year prison sentence for anyone convicted of insulting a religious symbol or figure. Civil society organisations have stressed the need for substantial modifications of the law on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration before it is voted upon in the Iraqi parliament. The draft law led to social media protests by prominent bloggers using the hashtags #NoToMuzzlingThePeople and #FreedomRepressionLaw.

Peaceful Assembly

On 15th July, thousands of Iraqi citizens gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to protest against delays in government reforms. The Iraqi government had reportedly warned protesters not to gather as the protest would distract security forces from the war against Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS). A statement from the Joint Operations Command termed the protest "unauthorised" and said that anyone who appeared with arms would be treated as a "terrorist threat." Unlike protests in April and May, there were no reports of violence during the demonstrations, though there was a heavy military presence.

A proposed new law that could threaten freedom of expression (see above) also threatens respect for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Iraq. The draft law sets difficult procedures for obtaining permits, and requires permission to be sought six days before a planned protest. The law also enables the authorities to disallow protests for any reason.