Shaban agreed that the penalties set out in the law were completely out of proportion to the offences they were attached to. He pointed out that in most other countries, fines rather than imprisonment were seen as more appropriate for this kind of thing.
Doaa Najim al-Din, 24, is among the Iraqi bloggers who fear that the law – if left unchanged – will threaten all web users.
“I feel this law seeks only to punish internet users, not to regulate their activities,” she said.
Human Rights Watch described the law, in a report published last July, as a part of a broader pattern of restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Iraq, particularly freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
Under President Saddam Hussein, email and internet use was restricted and closely monitored. After he was removed in the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, modern technology spread rapidly, so that internet services are now available almost everywhere at reasonable prices.
Saragey agrees that legislation is needed to regulate internet use, but says it must not restrict the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution.
Abbas al-Baiyati, a member of parliament’s defence committee, acknowledges that the bill will need a lot of changes before it can go to the vote. But he maintains it is not an attack on basic rights even in its present form.
“We don’t want to pass a law that restricts freedoms; we want one that supports national security,” he said.
Baiyati pointed out that in an unstable environment like Iraq, the authorities needed to monitor the internet closely to prevent it being used by insurgent groups. He said this was similar to the US, which also had surveillance systems in place.
Laith Hammoudi is IWPR’s editor in Iraq.