Media outlets operating in Iraq are now required to use the term “Sexual deviance” to refer to homosexuality. In a statement published Tuesday, and reported by Reuters, the country’s media regulator ordered all media, mobile applications, platforms and social media companies to not refrain from using the terms “gender” and “homosexuality.”
Although this measure has yet to be passed into law, a government spokesman said that violations could lead to fines.
While freedom of expression is officially enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution, and same-sex relations are not criminalized, Article 401 of the 1969 Penal Code, which prohibits “indecent acts,” is frequently used as a pretext for the arrest of LGBTQ+ individuals.
In 2022, Human Rights Watch reported that dozens of LGBTQ+ people had been arrested, abducted, tortured, raped and killed, and accused the Iraqi government of turning a blind eye to the armed groups responsible, which continue to act with impunity.
One of the cases that caught media attention is that of DJ Arshad Haybat, who was kidnapped in November 2020 and is still missing. Haybat was accused of hosting a party for the LGBTQ+ people in Baghdad.
Tightening the noose around LGBTQ+ individuals
In recent months, representatives of the country’s main political parties have stepped up attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. In September, members of the Kurdistan Regional Government proposed an anti-LGBTQ+ draft law for the region, including the one-month closure of media outlets and associations that “promote homosexuality.”
In early July, a Baghdad MP submitted a bill to ban homosexuality in the country, which he wanted to be examined as soon as the legislative period resumes in September, according to the Erbil-based independent Basnews news agency.
Earlier, Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr said he intends to mobilize Iraqis around this issue, and encouraged schools to raise public awareness of it.
More recently, with the scandals fueled by Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark in the background, LGBTQ+ rainbow flags were burnt in the streets of Baghdad during anti-West demonstrations organized by Shiite factions.
This political instrumentalization of cultural differences seems a far cry from the principal concerns of Iraqis, who now suffer power shortages and banking-related panic provoked by the US sanctions imposed on 14 financial institutions for circumventing trade restrictions with Iran.
In 2019, mass demonstrations engulfed Iraq, denouncing endemic state corruption, among other things.
“If Iraq was committed to electricity in the same way it is preoccupied with homosexuality,” said one sardonic user of the microblogging platform formerly known as Twitter, “the country would already be exporting electricity to neighboring countries.”
This story originally ran in French in L’Orient-Le Jour, translated by Joelle Khoury.