After the August resignation of the cleric from politics amid a stalemate over government formation, hundreds rioted in the capital against his loyalists and caused clashes that resulted in at least 30 deaths.
Following Friday’s afternoon prayer session, thousands of al-Sadr followers gathered outside mosques across the country to sign a pledge “to stand against (homosexuality or (LGBTQ), by ethical, peaceful, and religious means” as well as to demand the “abolition” of the homosexuality laws.
It wasn’t clear which law the pledge was referenced to. Although Iraq doesn’t have a law explicitly criminalizing homosexuality, it does have one that outlaws “immodest actions,” which Human Rights Watch described as “a vague provision” that could be used against sexual and gender minorities.
A supporter of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr signs a pledge to stand against homosexuality or LGBTQ, outside a mosque in Kufa, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)Al-Sadr’s proclamation came amid the Qatar World Cup, which has attracted international attention to LGBTQ rights in Qatar and elsewhere in the region.
Qatar, where gay sex in public places is illegal, was subject to intense international scrutiny.
Some fans were prohibited from bringing items in rainbow colours into stadiums, which is a symbol for LGBTQ rights.
Al-Sadr’s Friday call was heeded by some who signed the pledge in Kufa, a Najaf province town. Kazem alHusseini (imam at a local mosque) denied that the campaign was motivated by the World Cup. He noted that al-Sadr had made similar statements before.
He said that there had been attempts to promote the issue at the World Cup by Westerners who attended the (games).
He said, “There is a fear the West is putting pressure upon the Arab and Islamic governments to legitimise same sex marriage in their constitutions and laws to allow them to normalize this perversion.”
Ibrahim al-Jabri signed the pledge in Baghdad’s Sadr City. He also signed the pledge. We have the freedom to reject lies and to reject corruption.
Sanar Hasan is an Iraqi journalist who wrote on LGBTQ issues. He noted that al-Sadr previously blamed the COVID-19 Pandemic as well as the monkeypox for homosexuality. She said that al-Sadr was trying to regain support from the Iraqi streets by playing on social taboos after his failure in forming the country’s government.
LGBTQ people living in Iraq are concerned that the campaign will increase harassment and abuse, despite its nominal promise to non-violence.
Human Rights Watch released an earlier report this year claiming that armed groups in Iraq abducted, tortured, and killed lesbians, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals with impunity.
It claims that the Iraqi government has not held perpetrators accountable. The report, which was released by IraQueer, a New York-based organisation, also accuses Iraqi police and security of being complicit in anti-LGBTQ violence, and of arresting people “due to nonconforming appearance.”
Rasha Younes, a researcher on LGBTQ rights for the group, stated in an email that “attacks against LGBT peoples in Iraq have been a political tactic since long.”
She said that public speeches such as al-Sadr’s have “served to undermine LGBT rights, fuel violence against LGBT Iraqis who already face killings and abductions, and sexual violence, by armed groups without impunity.”
One university student from Najaf identified as queer, and spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were afraid for their safety. She said that even though she is not openly LGBTQ, they have been harassed on the streets for wearing clothing that does not conform to local conservative norms.
Al-Sadr’s “hate speech” made them more afraid, considering the violence he has committed in the past, said the student.
They said that they had thought that they would wait for me to graduate from university before I could travel to Europe with a student visa. But now, they suggested that I consider taking precautions to flee to safety in the event of an emergency.