LGBTQ rights in Iraq under threat

LGBTQ+ Iraqis face new threat as lawmakers mull death penalty

A proposed amendment to Iraq‘s 1988 anti-prostitution law has heightened fears among the Iraqi LGBTQ+ community as it paves the way for capital punishment for homosexual relations. Advocates argue that this move reflects a dangerous progression in an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals already grapple with frequent attacks and discrimination.

Although homosexuality and various gender issues are considered taboo in Iraq’s conservative society, current laws do not explicitly penalize homosexual relationships. Yet, members of the LGBTQ+ community often find themselves prosecuted under sodomy or ambiguous morality and anti-prostitution sections of the Iraqi penal code.

Such legal and societal pressures have driven many LGBTQ+ Iraqis underground, experiencing “kidnappings, rapes, torture, and murders” often without any legal recourse, as highlighted by a 2022 report from Human Rights Watch and the IraQueer NGO.

Rasha Younes, an LGBTQ+ rights researcher at HRW, labeled the potential legislation as a “dangerous step,” explaining that the fears LGBTQ+ Iraqis face from armed groups could soon be embedded into the law itself. She criticized the Iraqi government’s strategy of using LGBTQ+ rights as a distraction from their failures in governance.

The proposed amendment appears to resonate with the Islamist-majority assembly. Saud Al-Saadi, a member of the Shiite Muslim party Huquq—affiliated with the powerful Iran-aligned Hezbollah Brigades—mentioned the amendment was still under debate.

However, Sharif Suleiman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party emphasized the need for “deterrent laws,” viewing the proposal as a reflection of the nation’s “moral and human values.”

The proposed amendment in Iraq not only threatens capital punishment for homosexual relations but also stipulates a minimum seven-year imprisonment for “promoting homosexuality”, based on the document viewed by AFP. These measures are part of a broader trend to curb discussions on gender issues.

Recent months have seen a troubling uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from both politicians and netizens in Iraq. Even the national media and communications commission contemplates outlawing the use of the term “homosexuality” in Iraq-based publications. A source from the commission revealed that media houses would instead be encouraged to use the pejorative term “sexual deviance”. If implemented, the term “gender” might also be prohibited.

In a reflection of the increasing hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community, influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr urged ‘all believers’ on social media to counteract ‘homosexual society’ using ‘education and awareness’ instead of violence. 

Sadr’s remarks seemed to spark fervent reactions from his followers, who burned rainbow flags during demonstrations this summer. These actions were a response to a Koran burning incident in Sweden, which Sadr highlighted as a way to antagonize those defending or supporting such actions.

This rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has escalated the fear and concern among community members. Abdallah, a 33-year-old gay man from Baghdad, exemplified these concerns, saying, “The situation has become too complicated because we are not protected by the authorities.”

He relocated to Turkey amidst the recent protests near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, fearing persecution. Abdallah highlighted the perilous reality faced by many LGBTQ+ individuals in Iraq: “If someone finds out that I’m gay and has a problem with me, they can send my name or photo to armed groups.

“My life will end.”