An Egyptian TikTok influencer has been arrested after she and another influencer were convicted of human trafficking and handed long jail terms.
In the latest twist in a nearly year-long saga, a Cairo court on Sunday sentenced Haneen Hossam, 20, in absentia to 10 years in prison, and co-defendant Mawadah al-Adham, 23, who was present, to six years.
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The court also fined the two university students 200,000 Egyptian pounds each ($13,000) for encouraging women to share footage on the video-sharing app in exchange for money.
Hossam was arrested in a Cairo suburb and will be transferred to the Public Prosecution, the AFP news agency reported, citing a security official.
Hossam’s lawyer, Hani Sameh, said on Monday that she would appeal the prison sentence handed down to her.
“We will demand restoration of the case proceedings because there are contradictions between the verdict and the merits on which the court’s decision is based,” said Sameh.
“We hope that she can get a reduced jail sentence or an acquittal,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hours before her arrest, Hossam posted a video in which she asked President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for a pardon.
“10 years! I didn’t do anything immoral to deserve all this. I was jailed for 10 months and didn’t say a word after I was released … Why do you want to jail me again?” she said, as she cried and pleaded.
She added: “I was wronged, and I did not do anything. I am literally dying. Save me. My mother is about to have a stroke after the ruling.”
Crackdown on social media influencers
Several women have been accused of “inciting debauchery” for challenging Egypt’s conservative social values, and the battle has moved online as the use of social media by young Egyptians surges.
Hossam, who has about 900,000 followers on TikTok, was among five Egyptian social media influencers who were sentenced to two years in jail in July 2020 for promoting immorality by encouraging women to make money through social media followings.
She was arrested after posting a video on Instagram explaining how women could earn up to $3,000 by broadcasting videos using the video creation platform Likee, which authorities interpreted as promoting women selling sex online.
The other four members of the group were al-Adham, who was found guilty of sharing “indecent” photos and videos with her one million Instagram followers, and three men who were found guilty of helping the two women. Al-Adham once had three million followers on TikTok and has 1.4 million followers on Instagram.
An appeals court overturned the ruling in January, but introduced new charges of human trafficking. The five accused were released in February after spending eight months in jail.
But on Sunday, all five were found guilty of human trafficking and fined.
Hossam was given the longest prison sentence – 10 years – with al-Adham and the three men ordered to serve six years.
Sameh, her lawyer, said Hossam received the toughest sentencing because she had not appeared in court, even though “it was her legal right not to show up.”
Rights groups denounce verdict
The decision has outraged rights defenders who condemned the prosecution of the two women as part of a crackdown by Egyptian authorities on female social media influencers.
“The ruling is harsh and exaggerated,” said Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness.
“Such a verdict restricts the right to freedom of opinion and expression and aims to control women’s bodies and impose guardianship over their actions,” he said.
Eldanbouki said the verdict restricts women with vague labels like “protecting family values”.
Entessar el-Saeed, another women’s rights activist and head of the Cairo Foundation for Development and Law, said authorities were unfairly singling out women – not men – in their efforts to “safeguard” family values.
“We can see other videos and posts on social media by men justifying marital rape but with no reaction against them. Doesn’t that violate family values?” el-Saeed asked.