Shaban drew parallels with the way another law, governing journalists, was pushed through in the face of objections raised about its many defects.
In the proposed Information Crimes Law, 21 articles are given over to defining penalties that range from hefty fines to life imprisonment.
The bill was first drafted in 2007 as a way of prosecuting insurgents who used the internet to advocate their violent aims. At the time, Shilah explains, judges were crying out for some legal instrument to allow them to deal with such cases.
Article 3 of the bill stipulates a life term plus a fine of up to 50 million dinars, about 40,000 US dollars, for anyone who uses computer technology to “undermine the independence, unity or security of the country or its overriding economic, political, military and security interests”, or to engage in any way with a “hostile entity” with the aim of endangering national security.
Article 18, meanwhile, prescribes three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 2,400 dollars for anyone using an internet pseudonym with the intention of “misleading or deceiving”.
The head of the Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists’ Rights, Ibrahim al-Saragey, says the loose wording in the law could turn innocent web users into criminals.
“The phrase ‘undermining the independence, unity, or security of the country’ is highly ambiguous – it can be interpreted any way the authorities choose,” he said. “Any article criticising the performance of the security forces could be read as an attempt to undermine security, and any internet user could be deemed a criminal and… put in jail.”