Possible new Iraq Internet Law: Vague wording gives way to oppression of freedom of expression
That laws continuously stumble behind the ongoing growth of the internet and its possibilities is no secret, unfortunately, almost all laws are narrowing the freedom of the users. A new Iraqi law therefore enrages numerous human rights groups.
As of now, nothing is set but a draft for a law that would pose a severe threat to free speech, journalism and other peaceful activists in their freedom, is causing a lot of ruckus lately.
Information Crimes Law uses vague wording
In the law, according to the Human Rights Watch, the wording is vague and therefore open for interpretation when it comes to capital punishment for threats to the governmental, social or religious interests.
Vagueness is a common problem in (internet) laws that have already caused a lot of critic in America and Europe as a vagueness in wording can lead to numerous interpretations of the severity of a crime and the appropriate punishment. As long as it is not exactly stated what constitutes as a threatening act, simple blogs, articles and comments could count for it, which would be a hard blow for freedom of speech.
Use of electronics with restricted freedom
The law is called Information Crimes Law and covers computers, networks and other electronic devices (probably covering smartphones, tablets, etc.) and was first introduced to the Council of Representatives in July 2011.
Whereas most articles of the law refer to usual criminal activities such as money laundering, financial fraud and copyright infringement, however, the devil can be found in the detail.
Concerning acts against the safety of the country, the wording is far from clear and gives opportunity to punish people who have merely contacted a „hostile entity“ therefore imprisoning people who could have contacted groups and individuals without knowing that they were dealing with a “hostile entity” (what constitutes as “hostile” is also open for interpretation).
However, it gets even more concerning, in Article 6, for example, everyone could be fined and imprisoned who inflames sectarian tensions or strife; disturbs security and the public order; or defames the country. Even publishing false or misleading events for the „purpose of weakening confidence“ in the financial situation can cause severe punishmend. Article 21 offers the same for „encroaching“ religious or private life of the Iraqi people. Article 22 prohibits the use of electronic devices to publish anything that could advocate or propagate things, images and topics that „infringe (…) public morals“.
All of these concerns mentioned in the laws fall flat for the lack of definitions of what exactly can be seen as disturbing, encroaching, morally offending and infringing public morals, politics and religion. As long as they are not clearly set and defined, any person that even remotely falls into this category by the broadest of terms (a vulgar joke could already be considered as infringing public morals if presented convincingly) could be punished.
This could lead to a general sense of oppression amongst modern thinkers, human rights activists, critics of the current government and other people who – under the protection of freedom of expression – could give an opposing view to politics without threatening the countries security but rather protecting the citizens’ freedom by addressing infringements of their human rights.
Punishment for free expression, association and assembly
It is obvious, that the wording as well as the broad terms could be used to not only punish people who threaten the security of the country but also those that question its laws and politics on a journalistic, objective basis. However, without the press’ freedom to critically approach politics, religion and social values without fearing heavy punishment, this creates a restricted and highly threatening environment.
This law would furthermore also weigh heavily on private individuals blogging, posting or commenting on the internet, scrutinizing everything being said and using it against them in case it has the possibility of fitting the article’s accusations.
The freedom of expression, association and assembly is highly regarded in democratic countries and is one of the main goals of the Human Rights Watch, especially given previous occasions when peaceful gatherings and protests have been violently disrupted by security forces, this serves as another step back from freedom and moves further into constructing a heavily repressed society whose freedoms are cut off and restricted by the government.
The law will be going through a second reading in July 2012, an immediate change of its contents is therefore crucial before it gets approved.