Egypt Overturns Sentence for Tiktokers Jailed for “Inciting Debauchery”

According to state-run media, an Egyptian court overturned the sentences of two women who were previously convicted on charges of “violating family values” and “inciting debauchery” as a result of acquiring significant fame on TikTok.

The women each received a two-year prison sentence in July 2020. The courts also fined them EGP 300,000 (roughly $20,000 USD) each.

Their case drew international attention as prosecutors in Egypt engaged the defense in an extensive legal conflict last year against what they considered public brazenness on social media.

Females who desire to attain fame or earn money online, are frowned upon in Egypt. The drive for social media recognition has increased among young females, and those who influence or motivate others to do the same have faced harsh conservative backlash. Activist lawyers and prosecutors have sought to personally enforce strict social norms upon these young women.

Haneen Hossam and Mawada el-Adham, the two convicted young women, were aged 20 and 22 in July last year. Their only crime was becoming stars on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram with animated videos of themselves dancing and singing.

Mawada el-Adham, who is in her early 20s, reached 3.1 million followers on TikTok and 1.6 million followers on Instagram as her fame accelerated for posting lip-syncing and dance videos. The other young lady,Haneen Hossam, a university student of archaeology, attained 1.2 million followers on TikTok.

"The charges are very vaguely worded," Ms el-Adham’s lawyer, Ahmed Bahkiry, told BBC after the initial verdict was imposed. "Prison cannot be a solution, even if some of her videos go against our social norms and traditions."

With so many Egyptians enjoying the entertainment while stuck at home during the coronavirus lockdown, the women's popularity amassed millions of followers. However, compared with other social media posts in Egypt and in the West, their videos seemed relatively tame. Ms. Hossam usually wore a headscarf while recording.

Still, the prosecutors accused the women of “indecent” exploits after focusing on a specific post made by Ms. Hossam via Instagram. In that video, she encouraged her female followers to utilize social media’s fame phenomenon by posting videos of themselves to Likee, an app that pays creators based on how many views each video draws in.

Prosecutors accused Ms. Hossam of instigating other young women to sell sex on Likee and human trafficking activities. The women denied the charges against them.

Defenders of the women, including digital rights activists, said their middle- and working-class backgrounds made them more vulnerable to indecency charges than more affluent Egyptian women, who are subject to less moral scrutiny.

Though the court overturned the prison sentences for both women, it upheld a fine of about $19,000 for Ms. el-Adham.

Hossam’s lawyer, Mahmmed Sammer, told local media Youm7 that her mother fainted upon hearing of the acquittal, while both Hossam and el-Adhm shouted in joy.

El-Adham’s father, Fathy Rashad, advised reporters that his daughter was “devastated from oppression and sadness” and would need psychological treatment, according to Youm7 local news.

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