An Iraqi atheist has been sentenced to two years in prison for using “obscene words” against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.
The court in the south-central Iraqi province of Al-Qadisiyyah sentenced the unnamed man for “harming the feelings of millions of Muslims in the East and West” with his social media post.
According the media office of the country’s Judicial Supreme Court, he used “obscene words” against the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.
A statement said: “After taking legal measures against the accused, he was arrested. After investigating him, he confessed he owned the [Facebook] page and that all the comments were issued by him as an atheist.”
He was reportedly sentenced to two years in prison under Article 372 of Iraq’s Penalty Code, in place since 1969.
According to local media, the act says that “whoever publicly insults a symbol or person who is revered, glorified, or respected by a sect should be sentenced to up to three years” or issued with a fine.
Belkis Wille, senior Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “This case is emblematic of the fact that for years authorities have used vaguely worded laws with provisions, most which are from the penal code, on incitement and defamation that allow prosecutors to bring criminal charges for opinions they object to.”
Iraq is a Muslim-majority country with a predominantly Shiite population in the centre and south and a smaller Sunni population in the north and west.
In April, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that progress on promoting religious freedoms in Iraq is being impeded by Iran-backed militia forces previously accused of violating human rights.
USCIRF reportedly wants to see Iraq included on the “US Department of State’s Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom”.
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