Iraqi lawyer sues the Minister of Telecommunications for Shutting Down the Internet During Protests

On Wednesday, October 9, Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Joumaa filed a lawsuit against the Iraqi minister of telecommunications for disrupting and shutting down the Internet during protests in early October.

The lawsuit demands that the minister of telecommunications “repeal the decision to shutdown the internet in the country and establish that network disruptions are illegal and contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and the laws in force.” He is also demanding compensation for the “damage of infringement on freedom.” In addition, the lawsuit states that the minister should pay all fees and expenses related to the network disruptions.

Joumaa revealed to SMEX that the official complaint arrived at the Ministry of Telecommunications, and the first hearing will be held on Thursday, October 17.

He explained that he filed the lawsuit against the minister, instead of the companies, because “there are official statements issued by the Ministry of Telecommunications that justify the Internet shutdown.” According to Joumaa, “The first statement declared that the Internet was interrupted for security reasons, while a statement from the Telecommunications and Media Commission indicated that the responsibility for Internet shutdown lies directly with the ministry of telecommunications”

After the protests became relatively quiet, the government established an internet curfew, only allowing citizens to access it during during official working hours only, from 7 AM to 3 PM.

Joumaa contends that “the lawsuit should be against the person directly responsible for shutdown, that is, the minister of telecommunications, not the companies. If the minister denies involvement, he should explain why he issued these statements for security reasons. If he says he has executed the orders of the prime minister, then we will include the prime minister as a party to the lawsuit.”

Violation of Legal Norms

Joumaa affirmed that the “Internet shutdown violates the law, including the Iraqi constitution, and contradicts human rights treaties.”

Thus, he based the suit on Article 40 of the Iraqi Constitution, which guarantees “the freedom of communication and correspondence, postal, telegraphic, electronic, and telephonic” and Article 46, which affirms that “restricting or limiting the practice of any of the rights or liberties stipulated in this Constitution is prohibited, except by a law or on the basis of a law, and insofar as that limitation or restriction does not violate the essence of the right or freedom.” 

SMEX and the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM) have published a petition demanding the restoration of the internet in Iraq, which has been signed by about 3,400 people so far. Netblocks also published reports on the network disruptions and shutdowns even before the government officially announced them. 

The Danger and Damage of Internet Shutdowns 

During the recent protests, protesters have experienced excessive violence at the hands of authorities authorities and other groups, with more than 100 dead and 6,000 injured. 

Beyond the human loss, the network disruption costs an estimated half a billion dollars, or between 40 and 50 million dollars a day.

Despite these human and material losses, the Iraqi authorities continue to disrupt the internet during protests, elections, and even official students exams. The internet blackout threatens the safety of Iraqis and their access to emergency services, especially during demonstrations and protests, it also limits freedom of expression and facilitates government forces to commit abuses. 

Sign the petition to stop the shutdown now.

Original photo from: NetBlocks.

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SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.

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