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LGBTQ Iraqis face new threat as lawmakers mull death penalty

Anti-LGBTQ violence hits 'new high': EU report
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A law amendment in Iraq proposes capital punishment for homosexual relations, in what campaigners call a “dangerous” escalation in the country where LGBTQ people already face frequent attacks and discrimination.

The amendment to a 1988 anti-prostitution law, which passed a first reading in parliament last week, would enable courts to issue “the death penalty or life imprisonment” sentences for “homosexual relations”, according to a document seen by AFP.

Homosexuality, much like other gender issues, remains taboo in Iraq’s conservative society, though no existing laws explicitly punish homosexual relations.

But members of the LGBTQ community have been prosecuted for sodomy or under vague morality and anti-prostitution clauses in Iraq’s penal code.

LGBTQ Iraqis have been forced into the shadows, often targeted with “kidnappings, rapes, torture and murders” that go unpunished, according to a 2022 report by Human Rights Watch and the IraQueer non-governmental organisation.

Rasha Younes, LGBTQ rights researcher at HRW, described the proposed legislation as a “dangerous step”.

“That means that Iraqi individuals’ life and constant fear of being hunted down and killed by armed groups with impunity is now going to translate into the law itself,” she said.

“The Iraqi government (is) using the rights of LGBT people to distract the public from its lack of delivery.”

The law change appears to have broad support in the Islamist-majority assembly.

The amendment was “still under discussion and subject to exchanges of viewpoints”, said Saud al-Saadi, member of Shiite Muslim party Huquq, the political wing of the powerful Iran-aligned Hezbollah Brigades and part of the ruling coalition.

Saadi said a second reading had yet to be scheduled, and argued parliament aims to “fill a legal vacuum”.

Lawmaker Sharif Suleiman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party said the proposed legislation reflects “our moral and human values and our fights against abnormal social phenomena”.

“We need deterrent laws,” he told government newspaper Al-Sabah.

The amendment would also set a minimum seven-year prison term for “promoting homosexuality”, according to the text seen by AFP.

Other measures seek to restrict open discussion of gender issues, as Iraqi politicians and social media users have increasingly resorted to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the past few months.

The national media and communications commission is considering banning Iraq-based publications from using the term “homosexuality”, a source at the body said.

Instead, media outlets would be advised to use the derogatory term “sexual deviance”, according to the source, and the term “gender” would also be banned if the measure is adopted.

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who wields great political influence but is not part of the government, called in a social media post late last year on “all believers” to “oppose homosexual society, not through violence… but through education and awareness”.

Sadr’s supporters have burned rainbow flags in their demonstrations this summer protesting Koran burning in Sweden after he said this was “the best way to provoke” those who support or defend such actions.

The surge in anti-LGBTQ sentiment has stoked further fear among members of the community.

“The situation has become too complicated because we are not protected by the authorities,” said Iraqi gay man Abdallah, requesting to be identified by first name only.

The 33-year-old left Baghdad for Turkey at the height of the recent protests near the Swedish embassy in the Iraqi capital.

“If someone finds out that I’m gay and has a problem with me, they can send my name or photo to armed groups,” he told AFP.

“My life will end.”

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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