Egypt cuts TikTok influencer sentence to three years

Court reduces TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam’s 10-year ‘human trafficking’ sentence to three years.

A man watches a video posted by Egyptian Tiktok influencer Haneen Hossam
Hossam was first arrested in 2020 and sentenced to two years for 'attacking society's values' in online videos [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

An Egyptian court has reduced TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam’s 10-year “human trafficking” sentence to three years, a judicial source has said.

The source told the AFP news agency on Monday that despite Hossam’s jail time being cut, she was also fined 200,000 Egyptian pounds ($10,740) by the Cairo Criminal Court.

The targeting of female influencers has rekindled a heated debate in Egypt over what constitutes individual freedoms and social values.

Hossam was first arrested in 2020 and, along with another influencer named Mawada al-Adham, was sentenced to two years for “attacking society’s values” in online videos. She was detained 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.

An appeals court acquitted the pair in January last year, but they were later charged with “human trafficking” – a charge Hossam reportedly incurred for telling her 1.3 million followers that girls can make money by working with her on social media.

Then aged 19, she was sentenced in absentia and arrested last June.

Adham received a six-year sentence and a 200,000-pound fine. She is still behind bars.

Hossam’s lawyer Hussein al-Baqar confirmed to AFP that the sentence had been reduced. As she has already served 21 months including time under investigation, “she can be released in June or July”, Baqar said, adding the latest sentence could still be appealed.

Her case returned to court under a routine process because she was no longer in absentia.

Strict internet controls

The targeting of women in media is not unusual in Egypt, where several belly dancers and pop singers have been targeted in recent years over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.

Egypt has over the past few years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers.

Monday’s ruling “means that the justice system is criminalising what influencers globally do every day when they invite others to work with them and monetise TikTok activity,” Mai el-Sadany, managing director of the Washington, DC-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in a Tweet.

“There are real and serious cases of human trafficking that must be prosecuted – these TikTok cases are not it.”

Last year, the rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentencing of Egypt’s TikTok influencers.

“Women TikTok influencers are being punished for the way they dress, act, influence on social media, and earn money online,” said Amnesty International researcher Hussein Baoumi. “This is part of the authorities’ attempts to control cyberspace by policing women’s bodies and conduct.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies