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'Shocking injustice': Amnesty slams Egypt's prosecution of sexual assault, online abuse survivors in TikTok crackdown Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

'Shocking injustice': Amnesty slams Egypt's prosecution of sexual assault, online abuse survivors in TikTok crackdown

Mawada al-Adham is among the influencers prosecuted over her TikTok activity [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 August, 2020

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Amnesty has criticised the 'absurd' charges levelled against 10 Egyptian TikTok influencers, condemning the draconian policing of women's bodies and their right to earn an independent living.
Amnesty International has issued a stinging condemnation of the Egyptian authorities over its crackdown on female TikTok influencers, among whom are women who made allegations of sexual assault via the social media platform.

The rights group said the charges levelled against the ten women, including “indecency” and "violating family principles and values", were "absurd" and called for their immediate release.

The group also criticised the authorities for targeting women who reported violations of their right to privacy and online abuse. It accused the government of 
using "new repressive tactics to control cyber space by policing women’s bodies and conduct and by undermining their ability to earn an independent living".

More than 10 women have been arrested since April 2020 over videos they uploaded to the site, four of whom have been sentenced to prison terms ranging between two and three years as well as hefty fines, while six others await trial, in a series of cases that have appalled rights campaigners in Egypt and further afield.

Addressing the case of 18-year-old Menna Abdelaziz, Amnesty's acting MENA director Lynn Maalouf said: “In one horrifying case, a woman social media influencer went live online with a bruised face pleading with the state to prosecute the men she accused of raping her. She was arrested along with her alleged attackers, and their statements were used to charge her with ‘inciting debauchery’ and ‘violating family principles and values’.”

Before turning to TikTok, Abdelaziz had attempted to report the crime at a police station in Cairo, but was referred to a different station.

Security services arrested Abdelaziz and the six men accused of assaulting her on 26 May. Her lawyer said she was interrogated by prosecutors for nearly eight hours, using the other defendants' statements to accuse her of “violating family principles and values" and "inciting debauchery”.
 
Prosecutors said part of the survivors' fault in these cases was "sharing" their accounts of “indecent assault” publicly online, instead of reporting them privately with the security services.
 
Abdelaziz is now at a government shelter for survivors of violence, but remains under investigation with the same charges levelled against her.

"Prosecuting a victim of sexual assault who publicly pleads for help is a shocking injustice that risks discouraging other women from speaking out and reporting such cases. Instead, authorities must ensure that women who have suffered sexual assault can access adequate and timely remedies including access to medical care and psychological counselling, and must undertake thorough and impartial investigations into the crimes against them” said Lynn Maalouf.
"Instead of policing women online, the government must prioritize investigating the widespread cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in Egypt and take real steps to combat gender discrimination in law and practice," Maalouf added.

Amnesty said that during the trials of Menna Abdelaziz, Mawada al-Adham and Manar Samy, courts had used private photos of the women that had previously been leaked or stolen and used to blackmail them. The photos were used as "evidence" against the women despite them having previously reported this as abuse to the police.

Al-Adham says the photos - described as "indecent" by prosecutors - had been leaked after her phone was stolen last year. Despite reporting the photo leaks, police simply questioned why she had taken the photos in the first place.

Read also: Sisi's patriarchal crusade against women influencers reveals Egyptian regime's deepest fears

In the case of Manar Samy, Amnesty said her ex-husband had leaked intimate photos of her online in order to blackmail her and gain custody of their child. Samy lodged a complaint in 2018. However last month, she was sentenced to three years in prison and a 300,000 EGP (19,000 USD) fine. She is currently released on bail.

Amnesty also said that it research on the cases shows that the Egyptian government has deliberately been targeting women who become popular on social media and are able to independently make a living through TikTok and other platforms.

Others have said the crackdown has both a gender and class bias, targeting particularly low and middle class young women who become successful on the platform.

The women's followings on the platform range from hundreds of thousands to several million.

“The Egyptian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all the women TikTok influencers and drop the outrageous charges against them. They should also repeal or amend all laws restricting bodily autonomy, the right to privacy and freedom of expression and belief in the name of ‘morality’ or ‘decency’,” said Lynn Maalouf.
 
“Criminalising women for exercising these rights doesn’t only contravene international law, but also perpetuates a culture of inequality and violence against women,” she added.

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