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A dozen well-known Iraqi videographers and influencers have been arrested in recent weeks. Human rights organizations warn of the risks of freedom-killing abuses. To control content that would undermine the moral values of Iraqi society, the authorities have indeed opened a digital platform to allow the population to denounce content that they consider offensive.
From our correspondent in Baghdad,
When this platform was launched in January 2023, the Ministry of the Interior said it wanted to stem the spread of content it described as “decadent”. Anyone who finds offensive content posted on social media can report it on this platform, with just a few clicks.
Nearly two months later, more than 137,000 reports have been made. The number is impressive. The ministry assures that it retains very little. ” The 15 or 16 files for which we acted were the subject of thousands of complaints. We take the results that we find the most offensive, without personal recriminations or otherwise, we present them to the judge for their consideration and the judge decides whether to act “, explains Saad Maan, the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior.
Prison for a YouTuber and a Tiktokeuse
Seven content creators were however sentenced to terms of up to two years in prison, the maximum sentence. A “Tiktokeuse” who had published a photo of her in tight-fitting military uniform paid the price. This whistleblowing system has created a wave of concern among content creators. Hamsa Majid, an influencer, took refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan after a wave of insults on social networks. “ They accuse me of making decadent content, but I don’t even create content, I advertise. Honestly, I’m afraid that these people are using this topic to get at me somehow. “, she worries. For the time being, Hamsa Majid is not the subject of legal proceedings, but she fears that this will turn into a real witch hunt.
But what do the authorities use to define whether content is “decadent” and convict the authors? That’s the whole point. From the point of view of the law, the judicial authorities rely on article 403 of the Iraqi penal code which concerns publications ” violating public integrity or good morals “.
A formulation deemed unclear by many voices in Iraq, such as Alaa al-Mashaikhi, a lawyer in Baghdad: “ Section 403 refers to an outrageous act. This notion is subjective. How do you determine whether something breaks the law or not? While for some people a topic may be offensive, for others it is not. Generally speaking, this article is vague “. Many therefore ask for clarification of the terms of the law and procedures, even if they demand greater control of the content of social networks.
Fear for the rights and freedoms of Iraqis
The main concern would be the attack on freedom of expression and opinion in the country, as Rahim el-Shamari of the organization Burj Babel for Media Development points out: “ We fear that these measures will target journalists in a few days, months or years. This is why we ask to legislate again, for a clear law “.
The Ministry of the Interior denies this accusation concerning the journalists. But these fears are expressed at a time when parliamentarians are debating a text that is supposed to redefine the notion of freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and peaceful demonstration in the country.
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