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HRW: Iraq draft cybercrime law violates free speech

A draft Iraqi cybercrime law would violate the international standards protecting due process, freedom of speech and freedom of association, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Thursday. The Information Crimes Law, which had its first reading before the Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website, in Persian] in July of last year, regulates the use of information networks, computers, and other electronic devices and systems. It would allow authorities to impose criminal sanctions on individuals for publishing and sharing information that is considered a threat to governmental, social or religious interests. HRW argued that the new draft law represents a tool for the Iraqi government to suppress dissidents, journalists and other human rights defenders who are increasingly utilizing the Internet for information and resources. Although the law would penalize the use of computers for illegal activities such as fraud, money laundering or network disruption, the human rights group pointed out that the language of the legislation is too broad and vague and could encompass activities including legitimate information sharing. HRW noted Article 3 of the new draft law, which imposes a life sentence and large fines on individuals for "undermining the independence, unity, or safety of the country, or its supreme economic, political, military, or security interests," or "participating, negotiating, promoting, contracting with, or dealing with a hostile entity in any way with the purpose of disrupting security and public order or endangering the country." According to HRW, such broad language could be abused by the government to deter legitimate criticism against the government. HRW urged the Iraqi government not to pass the law until its language is modified to comply with international human rights law. A second reading of the law is expected sometime this month.

Iraq's human rights record has continued to face criticism, even after the dictatorship that marked persistent violence in Iraq ended. In May the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) [official website] reported [JURIST report; text, PDF] that Iraq's human rights situation remains fragile. One of the areas that has been identified is the weakness in rule of law and in administration of due process and fair trials. UNAMI discovered that most of the detainees who were accused of being members of the Ba'ath Party [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and being involved in terrorist activities are without legal representation. Moreover, it was reported that most of them were subject to threats, abuse and mistreatment. Earlier in May HRW reported that mass arrests and incommunicado detentions [JURIST report] continue in Baghdad's prison that was planned to be closed. In 2011, UNAMI and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] reported that human rights violations continue [JURIST report] in several regions of Iraq. Law enforcement and the judiciary system has remained weak while torture and abuse of detainees persisted within prison walls. Similar findings were made several months earlier by Amnesty International [advocacy website] in its report [text, PDF] revealing that governmental authorities shot and killed protesters [JURIST report] while detaining and torturing political activists. In 2010, it also reported [JURIST report] on the government's unlawful arrests and tortures against thousands of detainees.

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