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Iraq’s official media regulator has banned media and social media companies operating in the state from using the term “homosexuality” – instead ordering them to say “sexual deviance”.

The Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) document, which was issued on 8 August, also prohibits the use of the term “gender”.

All phone and internet companies licensed by it have also been banned from using the terms in any of their mobile applications, Reuters reported.

The decision still requires final approval, a government official said.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, described the directive as “the latest in a series of attacks on freedom of expression under the guise of respect for ‘public morals’.”

“Banning the word ‘homosexuality’ and insisting that media, including social media, use ‘sexual deviance’ instead is a dangerous move that can fuel discrimination and violent attacks against members of the LGBTI community,” they continued.

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“Furthermore, its ban and demonisation of the word ‘gender’ demonstrates a callous lack of interest in combating gender-based violence at a time when civil society has been reporting an increase in crimes against women and girls amid widespread impunity.

“The Iraqi authorities must immediately overturn this decision and ensure they respect the right to freedom of expression and non-discrimination for everyone in the country, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.”

Same-sex sexual activity is not criminalised in Iraq, but loosely defined morality clauses in its penal code have been used to target its LGBTQ+ community.

There has also been an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from Iraq’s political parties, according to Amnesty International UK.

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This has included things like the frequent burning of rainbow flags and untrue claims of homosexuality resulting in the spread of disease.

In addition to this, the Ministry of Interior led a campaign this year which saw a crackdown on what it deemed to be “indecent” content online.

Despite the challenges LGBTQ+ people face in Iraq, the community still exists there and organisations such as IraQueer continue to advocate for equality in the region.