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Iraq criminalises same-sex relationships with maximum 15 years in prison

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Iraq's parliament passed a law criminalising same-sex relationships with a maximum 15-year prison sentence on Saturday, in a move it said aimed to uphold religious values but was condemned by rights advocates as the latest attack on the LGBT community in Iraq.

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Reuters/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen

Iraq's parliament passed a law criminalising same-sex relationships with a maximum 15-year prison sentence on Saturday, in a move it said aimed to uphold religious values but was condemned by rights advocates as the latest attack on the LGBT community in Iraq.

The law aims to "protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world," according to a copy of the law seen by Reuters.

It was backed mainly by conservative Shi'ite Muslim parties who form the largest coalition in mainly Muslim Iraq's parliament.

The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality bans same-sex relations with at least 10 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison, and mandates at least seven years in prison for anybody who promotes homosexuality or prostitution.

It also imposes between one and three years in prison for anyone who changes their "biological gender" or wilfully dresses in an effeminate manner.

The bill had initially included the death penalty for same-sex acts but was amended before being passed after strong opposition from the United States and European nations.

Until Saturday, Iraq didn't explicitly criminalise gay sex, though loosely defined morality clauses in its penal code had been used to target LGBT people, and members of the community have also been killed by armed groups and individuals.

"The Iraqi parliament’s passage of the anti-LGBT law rubber-stamps Iraq's appalling record of rights violations against LGBT people and is a serious blow to fundamental human rights," Rasha Younes, deputy director of the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

Iraqi officials who oversee human rights could not immediately be reached for comment.

Major Iraqi parties have in the past year stepped up criticism of LGBT rights, with rainbow flags frequently being burned in protests by both ruling and opposition conservative Shi'ite Muslim factions last year.

More than 60 countries criminalise gay sex, while same-sex sexual acts are legal in more than 130 countries, according to Our World in Data.

Reporting by Timour Azhari and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad

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