Published: 14:01 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 02 July 2012
Blasphemy law proposed in Iraqi Kurdistan after Muslim protests
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq
A “blasphemy law” has been drafted by MPs in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan following violent protests by Muslims against a magazine article deemed insulting to Islam.
The Draft Law to Protect Sanctities prescribes up to ten years in prison and fines of up to 50,000,000 dinars (£27,390, US$43,029) for vaguely worded offences including “swearing at and mocking God” and “swearing at, mocking, insulting and portraying prophets inappropriately”. Any media outlet that publishes or broadcasts material deemed blasphemous could be closed for up to a year and fined.
The move follows the enraged Muslim reaction to a piece in an Erbil-based magazine, Chrpa (Whisper); on 2 May it reprinted a 2010 Facebook post entitled “Me and God”, an imaginary dialogue condemned as blasphemous by some local imams and insulting to Islam by government officials.
Chrpa’s editor-in-chief was arrested on 7 May for “violating religious sensibilities”, but this was not enough to placate local Muslims.
Incited by the mullahs, hundreds took to the streets of Erbil in protest the following day; they threw stones at police, and attacked a television station, cultural centre, bars and a guardhouse outside the parliament. Dozens of people were injured.
In the ensuing days, Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, said the government “will confront all insults against the religion of Islam strongly” and proposed the introduction of a blasphemy law.
A parliamentary committee then drafted the Law to Protect Sanctities and plan to present it for a vote shortly. It has been criticised by Human Rights Watch, who called for MPs to oppose the bill on the grounds that it “clearly restricts the right to free expression”.
Although the bill ostensibly applies to all religions, it has clearly been created with a view to appeasing Muslim sensibilities. And it comes against a backdrop of growing Islamic fervency in Kurdistan.
Sozan Sahab, an MP for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said:
After the Arab Spring comes the Islamic Spring. It’s in the region, in the atmosphere. The mullahs have changed.
This is a worrying development for Christians in Kurdistan, many of whom fled there to escape persecution in other parts of Iraq. They have generally enjoyed peace alongside other religious groups in Kurdistan. but this has recently come under threat.
In December 2011, shops and businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group, were torched by Islamists in an outbreak of violent attacks.
In a separate incident that month, a 29-year-old Christian man was kidnapped for ransom, a common occurrence in other parts of Iraq but not in Kurdistan, raising fears that the persecution Christians have fled is catching up with them.
The introduction of a blasphemy law in Kurdistan would pose a further threat to Christians, who suffer grievously under such legislation in other countries. Since the Arab Spring, similar laws have been proposed and/or implemented in various countries in the region, including Kuwait, Egypt and Tunisia; there have been a number of high-profile cases of people being imprisoned for actions or statements deemed insulting to Islam.
While the Arab Spring seemed to promise increased freedom and rights for citizens in the region, the spreading anti-blasphemy movement indicates that it is actually delivering the opposite.