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Iraq bans the word "homosexual" on all media platforms and offers an alternative

Iraq's Media and Communications Commission has issued a directive instructing all media and social media platforms in the country to refrain from using the terms "homosexual" or "homosexuality" and instead use "sexual deviancy."

The decision, reported widely by Iraq's state and private news outlets, was made to safeguard societal values and public order, the commission said, noting that the terms "homosexuality, homosexual, and Gender" hold undesirable connotations within Iraqi society.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn posters depicting an LGBTQ+ flag during a protest in Karbala, Iraq, June 29, 2023, sparked by the burning of a Quran in Sweden. MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty

While no specific penalties were immediately established for noncompliance with the new directive, a government representative indicated that fines could be introduced.

Iraq's national penal code does not contain explicit provisions criminalizing homosexuality, though the country's judiciary authorities often invoke provisions in laws related to the preservation of "public morals" to prosecute people for same-sex acts. The legal ambiguity has resulted in discrimination, abuse and even fatal attacks against the LGBTQ community in Iraq, and rights group Amnesty International said the new directive could make things worse.

Aya Majzoub, the organization's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement, called the Iraqi media regulator's order "the latest in a series of attacks on freedom of expression under the guise of respect for 'public morals,'" blasting it as a "dangerous move that can fuel discrimination and violent attacks against members of the LGBTI community." 

Amnesty called on Iraqi authorities to "immediately overturn this decision and ensure they respect the right to freedom of expression and non-discrimination for everyone in the country, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation."  

Attitudes toward LGBTQ people across the Arab world are shaped by a combination of cultural and religious factors. Islamic texts, including the Quran and the hadiths, the latter of which are a recollection of quotes attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, denounce same-sex relationships.

Some hadiths advocate for the death penalty in cases of public engagement in homosexual activities.

Wave of anti-LGBTQ laws passed across country 07:56

Many Muslim-majority nations have long resisted efforts to advance LGBTQ rights, including by opposing global initiatives at the United Nations. A coalition of 57 U.N. member states, many of which have Muslim majorities, previously cosponsored a statement opposing LGBTQ rights at the U.N. General Assembly, and in 2016, 51 Muslim-majority states prevented 11 gay and transgender advocacy organizations from participating in a high-level U.N. meeting on combating AIDS.

The degree of punishment for homosexuality varies from country to country. In seven nations, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, and the United Arab Emirates, homosexual acts are still punishable by death.

Afghanistan reintroduced the death penalty for homosexual acts after the Taliban retook control of the country in 2021.

Even in predominantly Muslim countries where homosexuality is legal, such as Jordan, LGBTQ venues are often targeted and shut down, and patrons are often subjected to violence and hostility.

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