Egyptian TikTokers acquitted of 'violating family values'

Egyptian TikTokers acquitted of 'violating family values'
3 min read
12 January, 2021
Two Egyptian bloggers and TikTokers have been acquitted of 'violating family values' following a campaign to free them.
They were acquitted [Getty]
Two TikTok users in Egypt have been acquitted of "violation of morality laws" charges after an appeals court reversed their sentences.

Haneen Hossam was acquitted of violating "family values", while Mawada Al-Adham's two-year prison sentence was also overturned.

The Cairo Economic Appeals Court cancelled an earlier ruling sentencing five defendants to two years in prison, however, their 300,000 Egyptian pound fines were upheld, according Al Watan News.

The two young women and three others were found guilty of inciting debauchery in July 2020 after posting TikTok videos, leading to global uproar.

The prosecution had accused the women of human trafficking, recruiting women for video-sharing platform Likee, and publishing video content deemed "inappropriate".

Hossam and Al-Adham denied all charges brought against them.

The defence argued that charging them would violate their civil liberties.

Social media as the new battleground

Earlier this year five social media influencers, including Hossam and Al-Adgam, were jailed over their TikTok videos, prompting several international organisations including Access Now to push for their release.

They had been described as "all women, all young, all exercising their right to freedom of expression online".

Manar Samy, another young woman, had been arrested and sentenced to three years in prison over tame TikTok clips in which she dances to and lip syncs popular songs deemed to be "inciting debauchery".

"The Egyptian government is on a campaign to arrest and prosecute women influencers on... TikTok for violating 'the values of the Egyptian family' and 'inciting debauchery and immorality,'" Access Now said in a statement.

The Egyptian authorities "not only want to control what citizens say, but also how they should dress, talk, and behave online", said Marwa Fatafta, the group's Middle East and North Africa policy manager.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls as it walks a tight line between balancing the Islamic law that shapes its governance and adapting to a rapidly shifting society.

The government has enacted strict measures to control social media content, while stringent laws were approved in 2018 allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security.

Authorities were also given permission to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.

"In the past, the Egyptian regime tightened its stronghold on the internet... Now, the online repression extends to non-political activity too," said Fatafta.

Aside from being a virtual battleground of competing interpretations of morality, social media has also empowered young Egyptian women to speak up about sexual assault, sometimes with negative consequences.

In May, a shocking video came to light of a young woman sobbing, her face battered and bruised.

Menna Abdel-Aziz, 17, posted an Instagram video in which she said she had been gang raped by a group of young men.

The authorities' response was swift: the six alleged attackers were arrested - but so was Abdel-Aziz. All were charged with "promoting debauchery".

"She committed crimes, she admitted to some of them," the prosecutor-general said in a statement.

"She deserves to be punished."

Such cases have reignited a #MeToo movement in Egypt.

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