Iraq postpones vote on bill including death penalty for same-sex acts

  • World
  • Monday, 15 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: Iraqi lawmakers attend a parliamentary session to vote on the federal budget, in Baghdad, Iraq, June 11, 2023. Iraqi Parliament Media Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi lawmakers postponed voting on Monday on a bill that includes the death penalty or life in prison for same-sex relations - a measure that diplomats from Western countries said could have serious consquences for Iraq's political and economic ties if it goes through.

Parliament was in session on Monday, with the bill - an amendment to an anti-prostitution law - second on its agenda.

It imposes life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone engaging in same-sex relations or anyone who swaps their wife with someone else's for sexual purposes.

It also bans promotion of homosexuality and violations are punishable by at least seven years in prison.

Two lawmakers in the session said the vote was postponed over time constraints and that some disagreements remained over proposed ammendments.

Currently, mainly Muslim Iraq does not explicitly criminalise gay sex but loosely defined morality clauses in its penal code have been used to target LGBT people.

Major Iraqi parties have in the past year stepped up criticism of LGBT rights, with rainbow flags frequently being burned in protests by both ruling and opposition conservative Shi'ite Muslim factions last year.

Diplomats from three Western countries said they had lobbied Iraqi authorities not to pass the bill due to human rights concerns but also because it would make working with Iraq politically difficult at a time when the country is trying to ease its international isolation after years of turmoil.

"It would be very difficult to justify working closely with such a state at home," said one senior diplomat, who asked for anonymity due to the subject's sensitivity.

"We were very, very direct: if this law is passed in its current form, it would have catastrophic consequences for our bilateral and business and trade relations."

Parliament was in session to vote on the bill just hours before Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was scheduled to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington on a trip focused on pushing for more U.S. investment.

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.

When Uganda in May 2023 enacted a law that includes the death penalty for certain same-sex acts, the World Bank halted new lending to the East African nation and the U.S. announced visa and travel restrictions against Ugandan officials.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari in Beirut and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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