Concerns About Iraqi New Cyber-crime Law

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Stockholm – Skyline international called on the Iraqi parliament to withdraw the legislation on cybercrime law because of the restrictions and severe penalties that strengthen the dictatorship, repression and violate public rights.

Skyline international, an international human rights organization, said in a press statement that the persistence of such legislation represents a consecration of the authority of dictatorship and repression. It imposes the will of power on people by force.

Muath Hamed, the secretary-general of the institution said that such a law will suppress journalists and bloggers by establishing a powerful political media that would have the highest authority and voice in the country.

The Iraqi parliament presents the law for the first time last week in order to be read again during the next sessions to be approved later.

The law includes clauses imposing penalties and fines and the possibility of interpretation of texts according to specific intention, which will make any publication or information published on media or on social media sites questionable to be held accountable, and subject to prison penalties and financial fines.

The law of informatics cybercrimes included 23 articles under various paragraphs, all of which provided penalties ranging from thirty years’ imprisonment to fines reach that could reach to 50 million Iraqi dinars.
These sections focused on electronic information and made it dangerous and harmful to state security.
Hamid urged the members of the Iraqi parliament to amend the controversial provisions of the law and ensure that it protects the freedom of opinion and expression, not restricting it.

“According to the information SkyLine was able to obtain, the proposed law did not go through the legal committee in parliament before it was put to the vote, which raises questions about who has put it, and the legibility of it, and wondered “How to put the law to vote without the knowledge of the Legal Committee? “, Hamed added.

The law provides that any computer or set of connected devices, other electronic devices, data, software, systems and Internet service may be subjected to surveillance and the possibility of opening programs and messages stored in any device if there is suspicion of use or misleading and unrealistic facts. It includes them under the name of ” compromised national security and independence of the country”.

Hamed called on the Iraqi government to refrain from proposing the law to vote, and to amend its controversial and loose articles, and make them more precise and specific to be caught in accordance with international law.

“The law is clearly contravening the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1976.

Concerns About Iraqi New Cyber-crime Law

Article 19 of the International Covenant provides that: “Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference, and everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, whether in written or printed form in the form of art or by any other means of his choice. ”

The most prominent and controversial items in the law are:

Article 2 of the law states that: “This law is intended to provide legal protection for the legitimate use of the computer and the Internet and to punish perpetrators of acts that constitute an infringement of the natural or moral rights of its users and prevent its misuse in committing computer crimes.” However, the loose wording of several articles of the law makes them ambiguous and severe penalties that are not proportionate to the type of violations will lead to the confiscation of public freedoms, especially freedom of expression on the Internet. Thus, GCHR fears the law will be used to target Internet activists and bloggers for their peaceful activities.

Article 3 states: “The following shall be punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 25 million dinars [USD$21,000] and not more than 50 million dinars [USD$42,000] for anyone who intentionally uses computers and the Internet for the purpose of committing one of the following acts:
1. To prejudice the independence, unity, integrity or economic, political, military or security interests of the country;
2. To engage, negotiate, promote, contract or deal with an enemy in any way with a view to destabilising security and public order or endangering the country.”
The text of this article undoubtedly raises real risks due to its broad nature and ambiguity, which mean the law can be easily used to target human rights defenders and other activists as well as opponents of government policies or leaders of peaceful protests who are active on the Internet to defend the civil and human rights of their fellow citizens.

Article 4 states: “A person shall be sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 25 million dinars [USD$21,000] and not more than 50 million dinars [USD$42,000], anyone who has established or managed a website with the intention of committing one of the following acts:
1. To carry out terrorist operations under false names or to facilitate contact with leaders and members of terrorist groups.
2. To promote terrorist acts and ideas. “
Without a clear and explicit definition of terrorism, it would be easy to use the law to liquidate the resources of political opponents and other activists.

Article 6 states: “Anyone who uses computers and the Internet for the purpose of committing one of the following acts shall be punished with life imprisonment and a fine of not less than 25 million dinars [USD$21,000] and not more than 50 million dinars [USD$42,000]:
1. To provoke, threaten or condone armed insurrection, provoke sectarian strife, disturb the security and public order, or harm the reputation of the country.
2. To publish or broadcast false or misleading facts with the intention of weakening confidence in the electronic financial system, electronic commercial and financial papers and the like, or harming the national economy and the financial confidence of the state.”
The loose wording of the article includes many terms that are not defined and can also be used to trap Internet activists, opponents of government policies or leaders of peaceful protests under the guise of inciting sedition, undermining security and public order, or abusing the reputation of the country. It might also target those who are working on exposing financial corruption in banks and government and private banks.

Article 18 states:”A penalty of imprisonment or a fine of not less than 5 million dinars [USD$4200] and not more than 10 million dinars [USD$8400] shall be imposed on those who:
2. Refrain from providing information or data to the judicial or administrative authorities.”
This article seriously threatens the freedom of the press as it gives the right not only to the judiciary but also to the government authorities, including the security services, to force activists, journalists and citizen journalists or even ordinary citizens to provide all information and data requested in flagrant violation of their right to privacy and to protect their sources of information.

Article 21 includes another broad and vague addition to the proposed law, which states the following: “Thirdly, a penalty of imprisonment for a period of not less than one year and a fine of not less than 2 million dinar [USD$1680] and not more than 5 [USD$4200] million dinars shall be imposed on anyone who violates any religious, moral, family or social principles or values or privacy of private life through the Internet or computers in any form or shape.”

Article 23 unlawfully imposes collective punishment on Internet activists, as well as suppliers and sellers of computers, as it states the following, “A term of not less than 1 year and not more than 2 years and a fine of not less than 3 million dinars [USD$2520] and not more than 5 million dinars [USD$4200] shall be imposed on any person who has intentionally produced, sold, imported or distributed any of the devices, tools, computer programs, passwords or access codes that led to the commission of any of the crimes provided for in this Law.”

Article 24 sets forth the investigation procedures of the current criminal bodies, as it states that: “the investigative authorities shall carry out the investigation procedures and collect evidence and request it from its sources in the crimes provided for in this law.” This means giving the task of collecting evidence and investigating cybercrimes to non-specialised entities rather than establishing a competent and skilled private body responsible for gathering evidence and investigating these crimes.

Thus, this law is contrary to the Iraqi Constitution adopted in 2005, in particular articles 15, 17, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41 and Article 42, all of which affirmed the right of citizens to freedom, including personal privacy, freedom of information, freedom of expression by all means, freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, freedom of association and political parties, freedom of communication, postal, telegraphic, telephone and electronic correspondence, and freedom from censorship, wiretapping or disclosure of personal information.

In addition to all that, Article 46 of the Iraqi Constitution has expressly stated that “the exercise of any of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Constitution shall not be limited or restricted except by law or on its basis, provided that such limitation and restriction shall not affect the essence of the right or freedom.” This constitutes a blatant contradiction between the spirit of this article of the Constitution and the application of the Cybercrime Law that restricts the freedom of citizens on the Internet.

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