The Washington Post reports: The Iraqi government is debating proposed laws that would impose strict controls on freedom of speech and association, prompting fears that the authorities are playing a growing and increasingly oppressive role in citizens’ lives.
As the country settles into its new identity as a sovereign state, about four months after the departure of the last American troops, some Iraqis are nervous that the government is moving back toward the heavy-handed monitoring of citizens that was a hallmark of life under dictator Saddam Hussein.
In parliament, there has been fierce debate of several draft laws. One would carry harsh penalties for online criticism of the government. Another would require demonstrators to get permission for any gathering.
Local and international human rights groups say the proposed legislation is vague and would give the government power to move against people or parties critical of the government.
“In Iraq, we need to respect all the ideas,” said an activist and blogger known as Hayder Hamzoz who is campaigning against a proposed information technology law that would mandate a year’s imprisonment for anyone who violates “religious, moral, family, or social values” online.
The proposed law also contains a sentence of life imprisonment for using computers or social networks to compromise “the independence of the state or its unity, integrity, safety.”
Hamzoz, who does not use his real name out of concern for his safety, said the legislation is intended to allow the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to control social media. The government essentially did just that more than a year ago, when it swiftly smothered an uprising inspired by the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region.