Stop the assault on free speech, drop the draft digital content regulation in Iraq

Access Now and 11 partner organizations call for Iraqi authorities to immediately withdraw the draconian draft regulation for digital content before it is manipulated to quash freedom of expression, or criminalize investigative journalism. 

Through an open letter to the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), the government body that regulates media in Iraq, the coalition is demanding authorities halt their attempt to control digital content and stifle free speech online. Instead, the CMC should initiate an open consultation with civil society organizations, journalists, academics, and activists to ensure that any future regulation is in line with Iraq’s obligations to respect and protect human rights. 

Through attempting to adopt a new tyrannical content regulation to purportedly combat ‘indecent content’ online, Iraq’s authorities clearly have ulterior motives: full control over media and freedom of expression on the internet. Vague, morality-based rules are a recipe for state restriction and abuse. Civil society will not sit back and watch Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission police the internet and single-handedly decide what people can and can’t say. Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now

The provisions of the draft regulation, which was recently leaked to civil society, are not only in flagrant contravention of the Iraqi Constitution, but also go against Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iraq has ratified. The vagueness of the terms in the draft regulation — such as “indecent content” or “meaningful content”— and the self-assigned power to ban a wide array of digital content would make this repressive draft a disaster for freedom of expression in the country.

Alarmingly, this comes amid an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression online in Iraq under the pretext of combatting “indecent” or “immoral” speech. Most recently, the Ministry of Interior launched a new platform for citizens to report such content to the authorities, while 14 people have already been charged for their social media posts. Access Now and 12 other organizations rang the alarm bells, and are calling on Iraqi authorities to stop all attempts to control and manipulate freedom of expression.

The government of Iraq is slowly chipping away at online freedoms. Bit by bit, various government bodies are using what powers they have to expand their reach, and tighten their grip. Activists, journalists, civil society actors, and all those online across Iraq must be protected. Aymen Zaghdoudi, MENA Senior Policy Counsel at Access Now

On multiple occasions since 2011, Iraqi authorities have tried to pass cybercrime legislation that would severely limit freedom of expression. Civil society continues to push back against such attempts, succeeding in suspending such initiatives to protect human rights. 

To protect people in Iraq, the CMC must immediately drop this dangerous project, and open consultation with civil society organizations, journalists, academics, and activists now. 

Read the open letter in English and Arabic.