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'Backwards, morally stunted...' Iraq's new law imposing severe penalties on gay and transgender faces backlash

The Iraqi parliament's passage of a new law imposing harsh penalties on gay and transgender individuals has triggered widespread condemnation globally. This law, discreetly introduced as an amendment to anti-prostitution legislation, has drawn fierce criticism from human rights groups and diplomatic circles.

New Iraq law imposing severe penalties on gay and transgender faces backlash
First Published Apr 28, 2024, 6:14 PM IST

The Iraqi parliament's passage of a law imposing severe penalties on gay and transgender individuals has ignited widespread condemnation, both domestically and internationally. This law, introduced quietly as an amendment to existing anti-prostitution legislation over the weekend, has sparked outrage from human rights groups and diplomatic circles.

The legislation, which was added as an amendment to anti-prostitution laws, has drawn fierce criticism from various quarters. US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller denounced the law, warning that it "threatens those most at risk in Iraqi society" and could impede freedom of speech and expression. 

Miller also expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on foreign investment, citing worries from international business coalitions. British Foreign Secretary David Cameron echoed these sentiments, labelling the law as "dangerous and worrying."

While homosexuality has been a taboo subject in Iraqi society, and political leaders have launched periodic anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns, the country had not previously implemented a law explicitly criminalizing such behaviour.

The newly passed legislation imposes harsh penalties, including sentences of 10 to 15 years for same-sex relations, one to three years for individuals undergoing or performing gender transition surgeries, and for the "intentional practice of effeminacy." Additionally, the law prohibits any organization promoting "sexual deviancy," with violators facing a minimum seven-year prison term and hefty fines.

Notably, an earlier draft of the law had included provisions for the death penalty for same-sex relations, though this was ultimately not included in the final version.

Iraqi officials have defended the law as a means of upholding societal values. Acting parliamentary speaker Mohsen Al-Mandalawi described the legislation as "a necessary step to protect the value structure of society" and to shield children from what he referred to as "moral depravity and homosexuality."

However, human rights advocates have vehemently condemned the law, with Rasha Younes from Human Rights Watch asserting that its passage only serves to reinforce Iraq's dismal track record of rights violations against LGBTQ+ individuals. She characterized the law as a significant blow to fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, privacy, equality, and nondiscrimination.

Samar, a member of Baghdad's LGBTQ community, told CNN that the latest legislation was "unfair" and indicative of a broader trend of homophobia in Iraq. Using only her first name for safety reasons, Samar shared harrowing accounts of crimes committed against her and her friends due to their sexual orientation. She recounted the tragic story of a friend from Al-Diwaniah who was poisoned by her own family upon discovering she was a lesbian. 

In light of the hostile environment and increased persecution, Samar revealed that many LGBTQ individuals, including herself, are desperate to leave the country. "I have been saving money for a long time to leave Iraq, legally or illegally," she disclosed. "The pressure I face has pushed me to a point of despair. I would rather risk my life in illegal migration than endure the hardships of staying in Iraq."

A 2022 report by Human Rights Watch had previously accused armed groups in Iraq of committing egregious acts of violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, including abduction, rape, torture, and murder, often with impunity. The report also criticized the Iraqi government for failing to hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes.

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