Iraq is about to introduce a new law to cover the cyber world. Authorities hope it will help fight terrorism. Critics say when ordinary Internet users could face of life in prison, it goes too far – and curbs freedom of expression.
The draft of the law on crime in the cyber world has only been read in Iraq’s Parliament once so far. But already it has drawn its fair share of vehement detractors.
On April 16, more than 40 organisations, both local and international, submitted a letter to Parliament demanding either changes, a re-write or an anullment of the law “because it threatens democracy in Iraq”.
Additionally 600 journalists, acting independently, plan to file a group lawsuit demanding the legislation be withdrawn. They claim it violates the Iraqi Constitution’s right to freedom of expression. “We plan to use all possible means to prevent this unjust law,” local journalist, Kathem al-Miqdadi, told NIQASH.
International press freedom advocacy organisation, Reporters Without Borders, has also expressed concern about the upcoming cyber crimes law.
Critics say there are several problems with the porposed law. For example, one part of the new legislation stipulates that anyone who runs a website that aims to mobilize the populace against the public order could face penalties as drastic as life imprisonment and a fine of between IQD25 and IQD50 million (between US$16,000 and US$32,000). The legislation appears to apply to ordinary users of the Internet as well as to programmers and software developers.
Critics have already said these kinds of penalties are disproprotionate. “An in-depth reading [of this law] indicates that the vague terms used and the penalties stipulated within are actually aimed at curbing freedom of expression,” Haider Hamsuz, coordinator for the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), a body for networking within social media founded in April 2011, told NIQASH.
Another problem with the law is that it gives any court the right to destroy evidence from written or audio-visual sources – which, according to critics, is another violation of the Iraqi Constitution. “In a situation like that, the defendant cannot even appeal the case because all the evidence that might support an appeal would have been destroyed,” Hamsuz argued.
Even the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Salim al-Jibouri, has said that the law needed to undergo changes before it was passed properly.
“Some of the law, especially parts that relate to freedom of expression, violate the Iraqi Constitution,” al-Jibouri told NIQASH. “It’s vague wording has the potential to make criminals out of all who use the Internet.” As a result, the Committee had sent a letter requesting changes and clarifications in the law.
However, according to an official inside the Iraqi cabinet who asked for anonymity, the government actually wanted to pass the cyber crimes law without making any amendments.
And in defence of the porposed law, the state has also pointed out that the severe punishments are also suggested for publishing information leading to the trafficking of drugs or people – not just for undermining national unity. Additionally, authorities say that this is the only way to stop terrorists working via the Internet.
For the time being, those who are arguing against the law are sticking to their argument: they believe that the law can be amended and still be a force for good in Iraq.