Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

BAGHDAD — Just a few months into its time period, Iraq’s authorities is abruptly implementing a long-dormant legislation banning alcohol imports and arresting individuals over social media content material deemed morally offensive. The crackdown has raised alarm amongst non secular minorities and rights activists.

Some see the measures as an try by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to move off potential political challenges from non secular conservatives and to distract from financial woes, comparable to rising costs and wild forex fluctuations.

The ban on the import, sale and manufacturing of alcohol was adopted in 2016, however was solely printed within the official gazette final month, making it enforceable. On Saturday, Iraq’s customs authority ordered all border crossings to impose the prohibition.

Though many liquor shops throughout Iraq continued enterprise as normal — presumably utilizing up their shares — border crossings went dry in a single day, apart from the northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish area which hasn’t enforced the ban. The worth of alcohol, in the meantime, spiked attributable to tightened provide.

Ghazwan Isso manufactures arak, a preferred anise-flavored spirit, at his manufacturing facility in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest metropolis. He sells it, together with imported, foreign-made alcohol, at 15 shops in Baghdad.

“There are imported items on the borders that aren’t allowed to enter, with a price of tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars},” he stated.

Isso stated he’s additionally caught with $3 million value of products in warehouses — liquor produced in his manufacturing facility. It isn’t clear but if and when the ban on the sale of alcohol will probably be enforced as nicely, however Isso stated he will not ship his vans from his Mosul manufacturing facility to Baghdad for worry they’re going to get stopped.

For Isso, the ban is a blow to Iraq’s multi-confessional social material. He believes it would immediate extra non-Muslims to to migrate.

Alcohol is mostly prohibited in Islam — the faith of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis — however is permitted and utilized in non secular rituals by Christians, who make up 1% of Iraq’s inhabitants of about 40 million.

“The legislation is a narrowing of freedoms,” Isso stated, including the ban would encourage “bribes and blackmail, as a result of alcohol will probably be offered the identical approach like unlawful medication.”

Joseph Sliwa, a former Christian lawmaker, blamed the choice to start out implementing the legislation on extremists inside Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities. He stated alcohol store house owners and producers would turn into susceptible, with these in energy or armed teams seemingly attempting to squeeze them for bribes.

Like Isso, Sliwa additionally fearful the alcohol ban may improve using unlawful medication.

A decide and former lawmaker, Mahmoud al-Hassan, defended the ban as constitutional and argued that it is consistent with the beliefs of most Iraqis and subsequently wouldn’t influence private freedoms.

“Fairly the alternative, nearly all of the individuals of Iraq are Muslim and their freedoms must be revered,” he stated. “They make up 97% of the nation.”

He downplayed fears that outlawing alcohol would improve trafficking of different medication. “Medication exist already, with or with out this legislation,” he stated. “Alcohol additionally causes habit and social issues.”

The alcohol ban comes on the heels of the contentious marketing campaign to police social media content material.

In January, the Inside Ministry fashioned a committee to research reviews of what it known as indecent posts and arrange a web site for public complaints. The positioning acquired tens of hundreds of reviews.

A month later, judicial authorities introduced the courts had charged 14 individuals for posting content material labeled indecent or immoral; six have been sentenced to jail time.

Amongst these focused have been individuals who posted movies of music, comedy skits and sarcastic social commentary. Some confirmed dance strikes deemed provocative, used obscene language or raised delicate social points comparable to gender relations in Iraq’s predominantly conservative society.

Amnesty Worldwide and Human Rights Watch, in addition to native and regional rights teams, stated the crackdown on expression violates elementary rights.

“Iraqis must be free to precise themselves … whether or not it’s to make jokes or interact in satire, criticize or maintain authorities accountable, talk about politics or non secular subjects, share joyful dancing, or have public conversations on delicate or controversial points,” the teams stated in a joint assertion.

Amer Hassan, a Baghdad courtroom decide coping with publishing and media points, defended the arrests in an interview with the state Iraqi Information Company.

“There’s a confusion between freedom of expression, which is protected by the structure” and what he known as offensive content material.

Hamzeh Hadad, an adjunct fellow on the Middle for a New American Safety, a Washington-based assume tank, stated the measures could possibly be a part of an try and distract from Iraq’s unstable forex and to pander to the bottom of the conservative Shiite cleric and political chief Muqtada al-Sadr, a rival of al-Sudani’s bloc.

Hadad stated the alcohol ban may disproportionately have an effect on Christians and different non-Muslim non secular minorities — a dwindling inhabitants in Iraq, significantly within the years for the reason that formation of the extremist Islamic State group, which at one level managed extensive swaths of the nation.

Nonetheless, Hadad famous there have been additionally “highly effective actors with monetary pursuits in alcohol” who would possibly legally problem or just flout the ban.

Non secular minorities aren’t the one ones pushing again in opposition to the measures.

“I personally am a Muslim and am not with the legislation,” stated Mohammed Jassim, a 27-year-old from Baghdad who says he drinks alcohol recurrently. Now he and others like him “will probably be compelled to buy alcohol beneath the desk from those that dare promote it illegally,” he stated.

Many Christians see the ban as an try and marginalize their group.

Within the northern Christian city of Qaraqosh, a liquor store proprietor who spoke on situation of anonymity for worry his enterprise could possibly be focused, stated the federal government’s transfer stings, significantly within the wake of years of lethal assaults on Christians by IS militants.

“They’re telling us to get out, we don’t need you on this nation anymore,” he stated.


Sewell reported from Beirut. Related Press author Farid Abdulwahed in Qaraqosh, Iraq, contributed reporting.

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