Iraqi civil society warns against imminent vote on 'repressive' free speech bill

Iraqi civil society warns against imminent vote on 'repressive' free speech bill

Shafaq News/ A coalition of Iraqi civil society groups on Monday warned against an imminent vote in the parliament on a new law regulating freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

The "Freedom of Expression Advocacy" group said in a statement that the draft law, which has been criticized by rights groups and some lawmakers, would severely restrict freedom of speech and peaceful assembly if passed in its current form.

The coalition said that the draft law has been met with "great objections" from civil society organizations, which have been advocating for a more rights-respecting law for over a decade.

"The draft law suffers from several problems, and combines more than one law into one," the statement said. "It also ignores what is guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution in its Article 38 regarding opinion and freedom of expression."

The coalition called on the Iraqi parliament to postpone the vote on the bill and instead "hold a hearing to consult with civil society organizations, experts, and other stakeholders."

"This is the most important pillar of democratic systems, and the most important thing that Iraqis have achieved after 2003," the statement said.

The "Defending Freedom of Expression" coalition is made up of a number of Iraqi civil society organizations, including the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, the Iraqi Journalists' Rights Defense Association, and the Association of Women for Freedom and Democracy.

The Iraqi parliament has been facing heavy criticism for its efforts to push forward a controversial draft law that human rights groups have accused will limit freedom of speech and assembly.

The proposed legislation, which has been stalled in parliament for years due to significant objections from civil society groups and international rights organizations, includes clauses that curtail freedom of expression and impose heavy fines and penalties. Critics allege that these measures could be politically exploited by the ruling "Coordination Framework", which holds a majority in parliament.

Two draft laws re-introduced to Iraq's parliament will seriously limit freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in the country if passed. The re-introduced bills - one on freedom of expression and the other with the alleged aim of tackling cybercrime - came amid a crackdown on criticism of government figures, Amnesty International said in July 2023.

Recently, the Iraqi government has been considering a ban on the popular social media platform TikTok. This comes on the back of a previous decision to filter pornography websites in the country. Authorities in Baghdad said that TikTok and other social media apps are used to disseminate immoral content and undermine Iraq's social fabric. However, critics believe that the proposed ban is part of a broader campaign to silence political speech.

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