Media Mandate in Iraq: Replacing 'Homosexuality' with 'Sexual Deviance'

Media Mandate in Iraq: Replacing 'Homosexuality' with 'Sexual Deviance'
Photo by Raphael Renter via Unsplash


Bilge Ece Zeyrek

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The Iraqi government's recent directive to media outlets, urging them to replace the term ‘homosexuality’ with ‘sexual deviance’, raises concerns about LGBTQ+ rights and the freedom of expression. Additionally, the use of the term ‘gender’ has been outright banned. [1]

As reported by Reuters, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (‘the CMC’) has mandated that all media entities within the country adopt the term ‘sexual deviance’ in lieu of ‘homosexuality’. [2] While this directive appears to be binding and is expected to carry potential sanctions, the specific regulations for enforcement are not yet established. This ambiguity raises concerns about the decision's compliance with the legality criterion, as it directly interferes with the freedom of expression and press. This move escalates the already existing discriminatory practices against LGBTQ+ rights, painting a grim picture of the situation.

Furthermore, the CMC’s prohibition of the term ‘gender’ adds complexity to the fight for gender equality. This decision undermines the progress toward respecting diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, potentially leading to grave human rights violations.

While Iraq’s legal system does not explicitly outlaw homosexual activity, vaguely worded moral provisions within its penal code have been employed to target individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. [3] In July 2023, Mortada Al-Saadi, the Deputy Head of the Committee on Legal Affairs in Baghdad’s federal parliament, introduced a bill aimed at prohibiting homosexuality in Iraq. [4] Al-Saadi submitted the bill to the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, urging its consideration during the forthcoming legislative season commencing in September. [5]

In Iraq, concerning efforts are being made to suppress the display of the rainbow flag, a poignant symbol that embodies the rights and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community.  In 2022, Iraqi authorities expressed discontent over the presence of the rainbow flag in foreign missions located in Baghdad. [6] Following an incident on June 28, 2023, in which an individual burned a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm, a group of Iraqi demonstrators assembled at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad and set fire to a rainbow flag. [7] 

The act of burning a rainbow flag could be tied to a far-right narrative that portrays homosexuality as an imported notion, propagated by Europe and perceived as foreign to local values. This narrative aims to depict LGBTQ+ rights as an external force endeavoring to reshape societies. Burning rainbow flags is not just about restricting a mere emblem, it is about curtailing the very essence of equal rights and freedoms. 

The safeguarding of LGBTQ+ rights holds immense significance not only within Iraq but also on a global scale in terms of human rights. Ensuring the fundamental rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ individuals is of utmost importance, as discrimination should have no place. Regrettably, recent actions within Iraq carry the risk of worsening these violations. As the world keenly observes these unfolding events, it becomes imperative for all to uphold the principles of universal rights, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sources and further reading

[1] Reuters, ‘Iraq bans media from using term ‘homosexuality’, says they must use ‘sexual deviance’’ (9 August 2023) <> accessed 9 August 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Equaldex, ‘LGBT Rights in Iraq’ (n.d.) <> accessed 9 August 2023.

[4] Bas News, ‘Homosexuality Ban Bill Submitted to Iraq Parliament for Consideration’ (4 July 2023) <> accessed 10 August 2023

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Aljazeera, ‘Protests in Baghdad following Quran burning in Sweden’ (29 June 2023) <> accessed 9 August 2023.