A Push to Silence LGBT Rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

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© 2022 John Holmes for Human Rights Watch

On September 4, members of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq proposed an odious bill to Parliament that, if passed, would punish any individual or group who advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The bill is reportedly gaining momentum among parliament members.

According to the “Bill on the Prohibition of Promoting Homosexuality,” anyone who advocates for LGBT rights or “promotes homosexuality” would face imprisonment up to one year, and a fine of up to five million dinars (US$3,430). The bill would also suspend, for up to one month, the licenses of media companies and civil society organizations that “promote homosexuality.”

If passed, the law would endanger free expression in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and eradicate public discussion around gender and sexuality. Even as LGBT people across Iraq have faced egregious violence, including murder, over two decades, the KRI was a comparatively accessible space for activism.

The proposed bill comes amid a heightened crackdown on free assembly and expression in the KRI, where just last month security forces arrested dozens of journalists, activists, and politicians in advance of planned protests over worsening corruption, poverty, and unemployment.

The new law would make a bad situation worse for LGBT people in Iraq, who can already be arrested under a range of vague penal code provisions aimed at policing morals and limiting free expression. In June 2021, police in the KRI issued arrest warrants under a “public indecency” provision against 11 LGBT rights activists who are either current or former employees at Rasan Organization, a Sulaymaniyah-based human rights group. As of September 2022, the case remained open pending investigation, though authorities had not detained the activists.

Advocates who support LGBT rights and document abuses against them should not fear reprisals for speaking up. The Kurdistan Regional Government should immediately quash the proposed bill and publicly guarantee the right to free expression, including around the rights of LGBT people.

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