HRW: "Iraq Cybercrimes Law Violates Free Speech"

A new draft law on information technology crimes would restrict free speech in violation of international law and poses a severe threat to journalists, whistleblowers, and peaceful activists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The pending law includes vague provisions that would allow Iraqi authorities to harshly punish expression they decide constitutes a threat to governmental, social, or religious interests. The Council of Representatives, the parliament, should not approve the law without revising it to remove the rights restrictions.

The 16-page report, “Iraq’s Information Crimes Law: Badly Written Provisionsand Draconian Punishments Violate Due Processand Free Speech,” is a legal analysis of the draft law. It finds that the draft law is part of a broad effort by authorities to suppress peaceful dissent by criminalizing legitimate information sharing and networking activities. The proposed law had its first reading before Iraq’s Council of Representatives on July 27, 2011; a second reading is expected as early as July 2012.

“This bill would give Iraqi authorities yet another tool to suppress dissent, especially on the Internet, whichIraqi journalists and activists increasingly turn to for information and open debate,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Council of Representatives should reject lawsthat would undermine the freedoms enshrined in Iraq’s2005 constitution.”

The proposed law’s overbroad restrictions on content impose draconian criminal penalties that would silence dissenting voices, Human Rights Watch said.Article 3 provides for lifeimprisonmentand a large fine for “intentionally” usingcomputer devices and an information network to undermine the country’s “supreme economic, political, military, or security interests,” which are not defined.

Article 3 also violates Iraqis’ freedom of association by authorizing life imprisonment for involvementwith a “hostile entity for the purpose of upsetting security and public order or endangering the country.” This provision could be the basis for prosecuting anyone involved in an organization, movement,or political party that the government deems “hostile” because of the group’s criticism of the government or its policies, Human Rights Watch said.

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