Iraq criminalises same-sex relationships with maximum 15 years in prison

The law is backed mainly by Shia Muslim parties who form the largest coalition in Iraq’s parliament.

Baghdad street
A car drives past on a street in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad [File: Saba Kareem/Reuters]

Iraq’s parliament has passed a law criminalising same-sex relationships with a maximum 15-year prison sentence, in a move it said aimed to uphold religious values, but was condemned by rights advocates as the latest attack on the LGBTQ community in Iraq.

The law adopted on Saturday aims to “protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world,” according to a copy of the law seen by the Reuters news agency.

It was backed mainly by conservative Shia Muslim parties who form the largest coalition in Iraq’s parliament.

The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality bans same-sex relations with at least 10 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison, and mandates at least seven years in prison for anybody who promotes homosexuality or prostitution.

The amended law makes “biological sex change based on personal desire and inclination” a crime and punishes transgender people and doctors who perform gender-affirming surgery with up to three years in prison.

The bill had initially included the death penalty for same-sex acts but was amended before being passed after strong opposition from the United States and European nations.

‘A serious blow to human rights’

Until Saturday, Iraq did not explicitly criminalise gay sex, though loosely defined morality clauses in its penal code had been used to target LGBTQ people, and members of the community have also been killed by armed groups and individuals.

“The Iraqi parliament’s passage of the anti-LGBT law rubber-stamps Iraq’s appalling record of rights violations against LGBTQ people and is a serious blow to fundamental human rights,” Rasha Younes, deputy director of the LGBTQ rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

“Iraq has effectively codified in law the discrimination and violence members of the LGBTI community have been subjected to with absolute impunity for years,” the AFP news agency quoted Amnesty International’s Iraq Researcher Razaw Salihy as saying.

“The amendments concerning LGBTI rights are a violation of fundamental human rights and put at risk Iraqis whose lives are already hounded daily,” Salihy added.

Lawmaker Raed al-Maliki, who advanced the amendments, told AFP that the law “serves as a preventive measure to protect society from such acts”.

Major Iraqi parties have in the past year stepped up criticism of LGBTQ rights, with rainbow flags frequently being burned in protests by both governing and opposition conservative Shia Muslim factions last year.

More than 60 countries criminalise gay sex, while same-sex sexual acts are legal in more than 130 countries, according to Our World in Data.

Source: News Agencies