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Iraq makes same-sex relations punishable by up to 15 years in jail


Amendments to anti-prostitution law also enable courts to sentence trans people to three years in prison


Iraq’s parliament has passed a bill making same-sex relations punishable by up to 15 years in prison, in a move condemned as an “attack on human rights”.
Transgender people will also be sentenced to three years in jail under the amendments to a 1988 anti-prostitution law, which were adopted during a session attended by 170 out of 329 lawmakers on Saturday.

A previous draft had proposed capital punishment for same-sex relations, in what campaigners had called a “dangerous” escalation. The new amendments enable courts to sentence people to between 10 and 15 years in prison, according to the document seen by AFP, in a country where gay and transgender people already face frequent attacks and discrimination.
They also set a minimum seven-year prison term for “promoting” same-sex relations and a sentence ranging from one to three years for men who “intentionally” act like women.
The amended law makes “biological sex change based on personal desire and inclination” a crime and punishes trans people and doctors who perform gender reassignment surgery with up to three years in prison.
Homosexuality is taboo in Iraq’s conservative society, but there had not previously been a law that explicitly punished same-sex relations. Members of Iraq’s LGBTQ+ community have been prosecuted for sodomy or under vague morality and anti-prostitution clauses in Iraq’s penal code.
“Iraq has effectively codified in law the discrimination and violence members of the LGBTI community have been subjected to with absolute impunity for years,” said Amnesty International’s Iraq researcher, Razaw Salihy.
“The amendments concerning LGBTI rights are a violation of fundamental human rights and put at risk Iraqis whose lives are already hounded daily.”
The amendments also ban organisations that “promote” homosexuality and punish “wife swapping” with a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years.
Lawmaker Raed al-Maliki, who advanced the amendments, told AFP that “the law serves as a preventive measure to protect society from such acts”.
He said passing the new amendment had been postponed until after the visit of the Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani, to the US earlier this month.
The US and the EU oppose the law and “we didn’t want to impact the visit,” he said.
“It is an internal matter and we do not accept any interference in Iraqi affairs.”
On Saturday night the US state department said the law was a threat to human rights and would weaken Iraq’s ability to diversify its economy and attract foreign investment.
“This amendment threatens those most at risk in Iraqi society. It can be used to hamper free speech and expression and inhibit the operations of NGOs across Iraq,” a spokesperson said.
LGBTQ+ Iraqis have been forced into the shadows, often targeted with “kidnappings, rapes, torture and murders” that go unpunished, according to a 2022 report by Human Rights Watch and the IraQueer non-governmental organisation.
Iraqi politicians and social media users have increasingly resorted to anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, which stokes further fear among members of the community.
Human Rights Watch’s Iraq researcher Sarah Sanbar said the new law change “is a horrific development and an attack on human rights”.
“Rather than focusing on enacting laws that would benefit Iraqis – like passing the draft domestic violence law or draft child protection law – Iraq is choosing to codify discrimination against LGBT people,” she said.