The group of influencers were individually convicted after a court considered their content to be ‘violating public morals’
Five Egyptian women have been sentenced to two years in prison for posting “indecent videos” on TikTok.
The young influencers were charged with “violating public morals”, and were each fined 300,000 Egyptian pounds (£14,400). Two of the women have been named as Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm, while the other three remain anonymous – the latter are said to have helped Hossam and al-Adham run their social media accounts. According to The New York Times, most of the women facing prosecution were put in jail without bail.
As reported by TIME, Hossam and Eladhm recently shot to TikTok fame, amassing millions of followers respectively with their videos, which include dance routines, funny skits, and clips posing in cars or with make-up on.
20-year-old Hossam was arrested in April after posting a video which explained how women could earn money by working with her. The influencer, who has 1.3 million TikTok followers, was charged with encouraging young women to meet men through a video app and build friendships with them for a fee (which is based on the number of views their clips receive).
An Egyptian court sentenced six women to prison over TikTok videos, claiming their clips "incite debauchery." pic.twitter.com/AGYvEisgeU— DW News (@dwnews) August 3, 2020
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Eladhm – who is said to post satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram – was arrested in May after being accused of publishing indecent photos and videos on her social media accounts, where she has a total of over four million followers.
“The verdict is shocking, though it was expected,” said women’s rights lawyer, Intissar al-Saeed. “It is still a dangerous indicator. Regardless of the divergent views on the content presented by the girls on TikTok, it is still not a reason for imprisonment.” All of the women will have the chance to appeal their cases.
Eladhm’s legal team said the sentence and fine “is really something very tough to hear”. Samar Shabana, the attorney’s assistant, asserted: “They just want followers. They are not part of any prostitution network, and did not know this is how their message would be perceived by prosecutors.”
The prison sentences are some of the first to be issued by an Egyptian court as part of a campaign against social media influencers. The young women are said to have violated “the values and principles of Egyptian society”.
Mawada El-Adham is one of at least 9 female #TikTok influencers arrested in #Egyp since April and charged with “violating family values. She has 3.1 million followers on TikTok. Last week she was sentenced to 2yrs in prison and a 300k ($19k) fine. #بعد_اذن_الاسرة_المصريةpic.twitter.com/aTgysjhBn2— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) August 3, 2020
Activists have galvanised in response to the sentencing, launching a Change.org petition which demands the release of the five influencers, as well as other women who have been arrested for videos posted to social media. At the time of writing, the petition has over 7,300 signatures.
This isn’t the first time female influencers have been demonised in Egypt. In June, belly dancer Sama el-Masry was given three years in prison and fined 300,000 Egyptian pounds for “inciting debauchery and immorality”. The 42-year-old was arrested in April for sharing videos described as “sexually suggestive” – el-Masry says the clips were shared from her phone without consent.
The crackdown comes as Egypt continues to enforce strict controls over the internet, including allowing authorities to block websites deemed a national security threat, as well as enabling the monitoring of social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.
TikTok is being criticised in other countries too. India banned the Chinese-owned app last month, lawmakers in Japan and Australia are also considering similar measures, and Donald Trump has asserted he will block the app in the US.