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Rights watchdog slams Iraq’s anti-LGBTQ bill

An amendment in the Iraqi parliament would make same-sex activity punishable by death. One Iraqi militia leader recently accused the US of “spreading homosexuality” in the country, and anti-LGBTQ sentiment is rising in the region.
Iraq lgbtq

A leading international rights watchdog called on Iraq on Wednesday to withdraw a law targeting same-sex relationships and transgender people amid rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the region.

“Iraq’s proposed anti-LGBT law would threaten the lives of Iraqis already facing a hostile environment for LGBT people,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Rasha Younes in a press release. “Iraqi lawmakers are sending an appalling message to LGBT people that their speech is criminal and their lives are expendable.”

Background: Independent  Iraqi parliament member Raad Al-Maliki proposed an amendment last week to a 1988 law against prostitution. The amendment would explicitly make same-sex relations and transgender expression a criminal offense. If passed, it would punish same-sex relations with the death penalty or life in prison. The legislation would also punish “promoting homosexuality” with a minimum seven years in prison, and criminalize “imitating women” with up to a three-year sentence, according to Human Rights Watch.

Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday that the amendment was still under discussion and a second reading has yet to be scheduled. A first reading passed last week. The change “appears to have broad support” in the parliament, including among Islamists, according to AFP.

Iraqi law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTQ activity, but members of the community have been targeted under loosely-defined morality clauses, according to Reuters. A 2022 report by the non-governmental organization IraQueer and Human Rights Watch also found that LGBTQ Iraqis are subject to kidnappings, rape, torture and murder at the hands of armed groups.

Why it matters: LGBTQ sexual activity is widely criminalized throughout the Middle East, and has been for years. Anti-LGBTQ attitudes are also rising, especially in Iraq. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for a fight against the LGBTQ community last December. In June, Iraqi protesters burned rainbow flags in front of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in response to the burning of a Quran by an Iraqi refugee in the Scandinavian country.

The same month, leader of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia Qais al-Khazali accused the United States of “spreading homosexuality” in Iraq, the official Iraqi News Agency reported. Khazali’s comments came amid growing controversy over LGBTQ issues in the US.

The views of American Muslims on LGBTQ issues have also received international media coverage recently. In June, the predominantly Muslim city of Hamtramck in the midwestern state of Michigan passed a law banning the Pride flag on city property. The story was reported by The Guardian, CNN and several other outlets.

The Washington Post reported in August that anti-LGBTQ backlash in the Middle East is “echoing US culture wars.”

Also in August, Iraq banned media from using the term “homosexuality,” saying they must instead say “sexual deviance.”

Elsewhere in the region, Lebanese Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada said earlier this month that Lebanon should ban the “Barbie” movie because “promotes homosexuality.” Kuwait and Algeria banned the film this month. However, “Barbie” focuses on heterosexual, male-female relationships, and does not feature any overt LGBTQ themes.

Know more: In May, Al-Monitor revealed that the official Saudi tourism website declared LGBT visitors “welcome” in the kingdom. LGBTQ sexual activity remains illegal under Saudi law, however.

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