Egypt Overturns Jail Sentences for 2 Women Who Gained Fame on TikTok
- by NewYorkTimes
- Jan. 13, 2021
CAIRO — An Egyptian court has overturned the sentences of two young women who were convicted and imprisoned last year on charges of “violating family values” and “inciting debauchery” after they gained fame on TikTok, according to state-run media.
The case drew widespread attention as Egyptian prosecutors waged a far-ranging legal battle last year against what they considered public immorality in social media.
The two women were among a handful of social media influencers, including a female pop star and a belly dancer, to come under scrutiny for their posts in recent years. As their social media followings and, in some cases, income earned through videos have grown, young female influencers have faced a conservative backlash in a country where activist lawyers and prosecutors take it upon themselves to enforce strict social norms for women.
The women, Haneen Hossam and Mawada el-Adham, were 20 and 22 when they were convicted and sentenced in July to two years in prison. They became stars on TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms with playful videos they posted of themselves dancing, lip-syncing and singing.
Egyptians stuck at home during the coronavirus lockdown loved it, and the women accrued millions of followers. But compared to other social media posts in Egypt and the West, the videos seemed tame; Ms. Hossam usually appeared in a head scarf.
But prosecutors accused the women of “indecent” activity, homing in on one clip Ms. Hossam posted on Instagram in which she encouraged female followers to try getting into the social media influencer game by posting videos of themselves to the app Likee, which pays creators based on the number of views they rack up.
Prosecutors accused Ms. Hossam of instigating young women to sell sex on the app and of human trafficking. The women denied the charges against them.
The women’s defenders, including digital rights activists, have said their middle- and working-class backgrounds made them more vulnerable to charges of indecency than more affluent Egyptian women, who are subject to less moral scrutiny.
Under the new ruling, the women are supposed to be released from prison, but it was not immediately clear whether they had been freed yet.
Though the court overturned the prison sentences for both women, it upheld a fine of about $19,000 for Ms. el-Adham.
Three other defendants convicted on charges of helping the women evade arrest and conceal their alleged crimes also won their appeals on Tuesday, according to Al-Ahram, a state-owned news outlet.