BAGHDAD: Christian politicians in Iraq are attempting to overturn legislation banning the import and sale of alcohol.
Customs officials were given orders on Saturday to enforce the ban. It became law last month despite opposition.
The group, which has five seats in Iraq’s parliament, filed a lawsuit saying it was undemocratic.
Public alcohol consumption is frowned upon in Iraq, a predominantly Muslim country, but it can be bought at liquor stores or licensed bars.
The law, originally passed by parliament in 2016, imposes a fine of up to 25m Iraqi dinars (£14,256).
It prohibits the sale, import or production of alcohol – and only became official last month, seven years since it was passed, after appearing in the official gazette.
It remains unclear how strictly the law could be enforced, and whether the country’s Federal Supreme Court will knock it back.
In their appeal to the court, members of the Babylon Movement insisted the legislation was unconstitutional because it ignores the rights of minorities and restricts freedom.
It also contradicts a government decree, adopted less than a week before the gazette was published on 20 February, setting duty at 200% on all imported alcoholic drinks for the next four years, they say.
Sarmad Abbas, an estate agent based in Iraq’s capital Baghdad, told media that the ban would merely push alcohol sales onto the black market.
He acknowledged that Muslim teachings forbid the consumption of alcohol but “these are personal freedoms that you cannot forbid citizens from practicing,” he said.
According to reports at the time, the bill was originally proposed by Mahmoud al-Hassan, then a judge and lawmaker for Iraq’s State of Law Coalition.
He said it was in keeping with Article 2 of Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which prohibits any legislation that goes against Islam, a news agency wrote.
Parliament in Iraq had voted to ban the sale, import and production of alcohol, with backers of the move arguing that its availability contradicts Islam and is unconstitutional in October 2016.
Opponents argue that the vote infringes constitutional guarantees of freedom of religious belief for minority groups such as Christians.
They say they will appeal against the surprise decision in the courts.
An official said that the ban was a last-minute move by conservatives.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, activities perceived to be contrary to the moral code of Islam have come under repeated attack, with alcohol shops targeted in Baghdad and other cities. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)