Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: May ‘08

IWPR story on “mobile phone abuse” said to have prompted Kurdish lawmakers to look at ways of tackling the problem.
Kurdish politicians and journalists have said an IWPR report has raised awareness of a disturbing new trend that threatens the safety of women in the north.

The IWPR report, Kurdish Women Tortured by “Mobile Phone Abuse”, shed light on the growing problem of men using cell phones to distribute revealing pictures, films and sound files of women.

The material includes photos, audio recordings and video clips of women and girls breaking social codes by having sexually explicit conversations or sexual relations with their boyfriends. In many cases, the conversations and videos have been widely distributed, damaging women’s reputations and also putting their lives at risk.

In 2007, nearly 350 women were victims of violence in mobile-phone related cases, more than double the number of cases in 2006, according to statistics compiled by women’s organisations and the Sulaimaniyah police directorate.

Several members of the Kurdistan parliament said the violence against women has reached an alarming level after many women had fallen victim to cell phone misuse. They said IWPR’s report helped to draw attention to the problem.

Journalists also said the article deeply affected readers after it was picked up by the Kurdish press.

Adnan Osman, editor-in-chief of Rozhnama, a leading Kurdish newspaper, said the story was one of the best articles on violence against women in the north.

The story "had such a strong impact that the issue [mobile phone abuse] is still being covered by the newspapers”, he said.

The story was published in several newspapers and was mentioned by the local media. Rozh TV, a European-based Kurdish satellite station, aired a special programme about the story and interviewed IWPR's writer, Amanj Khalil.

Patrick Cockburn, a highly-regarded British journalist with the Independent newspaper, also used some information from the report in a story published by the title on May 17 about violence against women in Kurdistan.

Arez Abdullah, a member of the Kurdish parliament, said the personal stories of women featured in the article were powerful and prompted lawmakers to look at ways of tackling the problem.

"The information in the story was so important that it really made an impact,” said Abdullah.

Parliament passed a law on May 19, a little over two weeks after IWPR’s article was published, aimed at protecting women from the misuse of mobile phones.

Violators could face up to five years’ imprisonment and up to five million Iraqi dinars in fines (4,100 US dollars) for a range of crimes that relate to misusing communications devices.

The law punishes those who are found guilty of using technology to “distribute or reveal” still or moving images or conversations that are considered “threatening,” “immoral” or “tainting honour”.

According to the law, individuals can also be charged for broadcasting “secret” personal information, whether it is true or not, “if broadcasting and distributing the information will cause harm”.

But not all members of parliament supported the law.

Suzanne Shahab, who has been campaigning against the misuse of mobile phones, praised the IWPR report but said that parliament went too far.

“This law was supposed to be about violence against women and how to prevent or reduce violence against women, but now it is different,” she said.

Shahab, who was not in parliament when the law was passed, said she asked the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masood Barzani, to veto the legislation so that parliament can review it thoroughly.

But Abdullah insisted that “this is a good law that will lead to a decrease in violence against women.

"It’s normal that laws will have opponents and proponents. We’ll work to make changes in the future."

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