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Human Rights Watch calls on government to revise draft law that curbs protests, speech

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Baghdad, July 13, 2011 - Iraq should revise its draft law on freedom of expression and assembly to remove provisions that restrict those freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today. The draft law would allow authorities to curtail rights to protect the "public interest" or for the "general order or public morals," without limiting or defining what those terms encompass.

Human Rights Watch has obtained a copy of the draft law. Those provisions, as well as the proposed criminalization of speech that "insults" a "sacred" symbol or person, clearly violate international law, Human Rights Watch said. The government is pushing for this legislation in a period when physical attacks on peaceful demonstrators and restrictions on journalists have been increasing.

"This law will undermine Iraqis' right to demonstrate and express themselves freely," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Rather than creating restrictive laws, the government needs to stop attacks on critics by security forces and their proxies."

The Council of Ministers said in a statement dated May 16, 2011, that it had approved the "Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration," in May and submitted it to the Council of Representatives for parliamentary approval. Human Rights Watch spoke with several members of parliament about the draft law who said it had not yet been circulated or introduced. Human Rights Watch called on parliament not to approve the law without revising it to remove the restrictions on rights.

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