On December 5, 2022, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights called on the Popular Mobilization Forces to drop its lawsuit against the activist Hayder al-Zaidi, which led him to be sentenced to three years in prison.
A document issued by the Presidency of the Federal Appeal Court of Baghdad – Al-Rusafa, revealed that the Criminal Court, First committee, was formed on December 5, 2022, headed by Judge Ahmed Muhammad Khalaf and the membership of two judges, Khaled Hakim Lateef and Firas Hamid Odeh, who is authorized to judge in the name of the people, and issued a ruling against the citizen Hayder Hamid Finjan Fadel, known as Hayder Al-Zaidi, sentencing him to three years imprisonment, according to Article 226 of the Penal Code, to include his detention period from 6 - 19 June 2022.
Article 226 of the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 of 1969 states: “A penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, or detention or a fine shall be applied to whoever publicly insults the National Assembly, the government, the courts, the armed forces, or any other statutory body, public authorities, or official or semi-official departments”.
The court also confiscated Al-Zaidi's mobile devices but indicated that the ruling was not final and may be subject to review in the Court of Cassation.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said that the Popular Mobilization Forces is an institution affiliated with the Iraqi state, and it must accept criticism directed at it from citizens, journalists, and activists, and not use its power and influence as a tool to restrict freedoms.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights rejected the use of freedom of expression as a pretext to abuse the privileges, rights, and beliefs of others which are guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution and international agreements.
Figures affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces published tweets attributed to Hayder Al-Zaidi in which he attacked the PMF, and Iraqi and Iranian religious figures, and likening the armed factions that fought alongside the Iraqi state to ISIS. The PMF considered these tweets "offensive", and as a result, filed a lawsuit against Al-Zaidi.
The PMF, whose political forces formed the new Iraqi government headed by Muhammad al-Sudani, now has an opportunity to dispel the concerns of citizens, journalists, and activists in particular regarding the restriction of freedoms, by dismissing the lawsuit in which Hayder Al-Zaidi was sentenced to three years in prison.
This case presents an opportunity to call for the adoption of a law to regulate the media and freedom of expression in Iraq in a way that does not contradict Article 38 of the Iraqi constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion and expression, in addition to repealing provisions in the Penal Code that the banned Baath Party legislated. It is not possible to continue relying on loose, ill-defined clauses legislated by a dictatorial regime 53 years ago.
It is imperative to expedite the enactment of a new Penal Code that does not contradict the principles of human rights, and a law that regulates media work and freedoms in the country while making a clear distinction between freedom of opinion and expression and hate speech, incitement and disinformation.