HRW blasts Iraq draft law on protests

'The draft law offers no meaningful guidance in how to interpret such broad restrictions'

BAGHDAD - Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government Wednesday to revise a draft law it said contained provisions that violate international law.
The New York-based watchdog said it had obtained a copy of the draft law, saying it curtailed freedom of assembly and expression, and contravened Iraq's own constitution.
"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," HRW said in a statement.
"The draft law offers no meaningful guidance in how to interpret such broad restrictions and is silent on what penalties protest organisers and demonstrators would face if they gathered without government approval," it added.
It said the draft requires advance permission for protests, but does not specify what criteria would be used to approve or deny such requests.
"This law will undermine Iraqis' right to demonstrate and express themselves freely," the watchdog's deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, said.
"The draft law fails to meet the narrow criteria international law allows for limits on the right to assembly," Human Rights Watch said, adding Baghdad "should revise its draft law on freedom of expression and assembly to remove provisions that restrict those freedoms."
Since the start of the year, there have been frequent demonstrations in cities across Iraq, most of them calling for jobs, better services and tougher measures to rein in corruption.
The protests had begun to taper off as temperatures soared with the onset of summer.
But on June 10, hundreds took to the streets to denounce what they said was a lack of progress in improving services despite the expiry of a 100-day deadline set by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for ministers to shape up.
That demonstration was overshadowed by a larger rally of some 3,000 people, apparently organised by the government, and reports that protesters were beaten, intimidated or arrested by plainclothes police and others.
"Rather than creating restrictive laws, the government needs to stop attacks on critics by security forces and their proxies," Stork said.
"The government is pushing for this legislation in a period when physical attacks on peaceful demonstrators and restrictions on journalists have been increasing."