Monday, July 9, 2012

Blasphemy Law Proposed in Iraqi Kurdistan after Muslim Protests

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAQ (ANS) -- A “blasphemy law” has been drafted by MPs in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan following violent protests by Muslims against a magazine article deemed insulting to Islam.

According to a story by Barnabas Aid, the Draft Law to Protect Sanctities prescribes up to ten years in prison and fines of up to 50,000,000 dinars (US$43,029) for vaguely worded offences including “swearing at and mocking God” and “swearing at, mocking, insulting and portraying prophets inappropriately.”

Any media outlet that publishes or broadcasts material deemed blasphemous could be closed for up to a year and fined.

Barnabas Aid said the move follows the enraged Muslim reaction to a piece in an Erbil-based magazine, Chrpa (Whisper) May 2. It reprinted a 2010 Facebook post entitled “Me and God,” an imaginary dialogue condemned as blasphemous by some local imams and insulting to Islam by government officials.

Chrpa’s editor-in-chief was arrested on May 7 for “violating religious sensibilities,” but this move was not enough to placate local Muslims.

Barnabas Aid said incited by the mullahs, hundreds took to the streets of Erbil in protest the following day. They threw stones at police, and attacked a television station, cultural center, bars and a guardhouse outside the parliament. Dozens of people were injured.
Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.  (Kurdistan Photo)
In the following days, Kurdistan Regional Government’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, said the government “will confront all insults against the religion of Islam strongly,” and proposed the introduction of a blasphemy law.

Barnabas Aid said a parliamentary committee then drafted the Law to Protect Sanctities and plans to present it for a vote shortly. It has been criticized by Human Rights Watch, who called for MPs to oppose the bill on the grounds that it “clearly restricts the right to free expression.”

According to Barnabas Aid, although the bill ostensibly applies to all religions, it has clearly been created with a view to appeasing Muslim sensibilities. It comes against a backdrop of growing Islamic fervency in Kurdistan.

Barnabas Aid reported that Sozan Sahab, an MP for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said, “After the Arab Spring comes the Islamic Spring. It’s in the region, in the atmosphere. The mullahs have changed.”

Barnabas Aid said this is a worrying development for Christians in Kurdistan, many of whom fled there to escape persecution in other parts of Iraq. They have generally enjoyed peace alongside other religious groups in Kurdistan, but this has recently come under threat. 

In Dec. 2011, shops and businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group, were torched by Islamists in an outbreak of violent attacks.

In a separate incident that month, Barnabas Aid said, a 29-year-old Christian man was kidnaped for ransom, a common occurrence in other parts of Iraq but not in Kurdistan. This raised fears that the persecution Christians have fled is catching up with them.

Barnabas Aid said the introduction of a blasphemy law in Kurdistan would pose a further threat to Christians, who suffer greatly under such legislation in other countries. Since the Arab Spring, similar laws have been proposed and/or implemented in various countries in the region. They include Kuwait, Egypt and Tunisia. There have been a number of high-profile cases of people being imprisoned for actions or statements deemed insulting to Islam.

Barnabas Aid commented that while the Arab Spring seemed to promise increased freedom and rights for citizens in the region, the spreading anti-blasphemy movement indicates it is actually delivering the opposite.

Barnabas Aid provides hope and relief for the persecuted church. For more information go

Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at

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