Islamic oppression Iraq | 27 March 2023

Iraq: Bishop faces legal action for comments on social media

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A Protestant church leader from Dohuk is facing legal action concerning Islam-critical remarks posted online. According to an article by Middle East Concern published on 21 March  2023, Anabaptist Bishop Bahzad Mziri "made a comparison on social media several months ago between the life of Jesus and the Prophet of Islam. The bishop described his post as being an answer to insulting statements made by a Muslim leader who had previously criticized Jesus, his birth from a virgin and the Bible."

The bishop’s statements were republished by a Muslim group in February 2023, sparking anger. An Islamic leader released a video saying that in such circumstances, Islamic law prescribes death. Bishop Mziri posted a video apologizing and explaining his comments. Nevertheless, several Islamic entities and leaders, as well as a branch office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, filed a lawsuit. When social media posts became hostile and called for a search to made to locate the whereabouts of the bishop and his family, the family was forced to leave the country. The church has temporarily stopped using their buildings for worship.

World Watch Research analyst Henriette Kats comments: "The blasphemy laws in Iraq are mostly used to target atheists rather than Christians. However, Christians can also become targets of blasphemy accusations for publicly discussing religious issues, defending their faith or criticizing Islam. Apart from an official legal procedure, they then also run the risk of Islamic groups taking the law into their own hands. For this reason, Christians are usually very careful in how they express themselves when mentioning Islam. In the northern region of Iraq, which is controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Christians generally experience more tolerance than elsewhere in Iraq. However, this does not necessarily apply in equal fashion to converts from Islam. The fact that the comments  in question revolve around a church leader with an Islamic background - which is unique in itself and characterizes the relative degree of tolerance in the KRG - makes the situation even more sensitive.”

Henriette Kats adds: “Iraqi Christians have often faced insults for their faith. One classic example was a shoe-company’s decision to sell shoes in Erbil with an ornate cross engraved on the sole, which is blatantly insulting to Christians, since in Muslim-dominated society this would be understood as rubbing the main symbol of Christian faith in the dirt (SyriacPress, 28 December 2019). Despite protests from local churches, no serious action was taken to stop the sale of these shoes. This would seem to indicate that Iraqi laws against insulting religion are only being used in cases affecting Islam.”


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