In the first ruling of its kind, the Cairo Economic Court on Monday sentenced TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mowada al-Adham and three other unnamed defendants to two years in prison plus fines of LE300,000 on charges of violating “family values.”
These are the first sentences issued by a court against female social media influencers after a series of arrests made recently, most targeting women who are popular on TikTok. The verdict, which is based on articles in the cybercrime law, sets a troubling legal precedent, according to defense attorney Ahmed Abdel Naby.
Hossam was arrested on April 20 after posting a short clip telling her followers about a job offer to make videos on the app Likee. Adham was arrested on May 14, also after she posted a video on TikTok.
Adham is charged with violating family values through the publication of provocative images on social media while Hossam is charged with violating family values by calling on female minors to perform acts that violate norms via the Likee application, according to Abdel Naby.
The other defendants include two employees at Likee who were charged with collaborating with Haneen, and a friend of Mawada’s who was charged with harboring a fugitive, Abdel Naby said.
Monday’s rulings marked the first time verdicts were handed down on charges of offending family values under Article 25 and 26 of the cybercrime law that was passed in 2018 (Law 175/2018). The Economic Court is designated to rule on cases that fall within the scope of the law.
According to Article 25, prison sentences of at least six months and fines between LE50,000 and LE100,000 can be handed down for charges of offending the “family values of Egyptian society.” Article 26 stipulates that prison sentences of no less than two years and no more than five years, plus fines of no less than LE100,000, may be handed down in cases where individuals use digital platforms to spread content that violates “public morals.”
The judge convicted Hossam under the stricter of the two articles, issuing the lowest punitive measure available under the law, according to Abdel Naby, who described the verdict as highly disappointing. Abdel Naby said that there was no evidence presented against Hossam and that her TikTok video explicitly shows her specifying that only women over 18 years of age should apply for the job posting to work as broadcasters for Likee, not minors.
Abdel Naby told Mada Masr that another lawyer on the defense team is challenging the constitutionality of the article on family values. “We support his argument because the article is ambiguous. Punitive articles in laws must be very specific,” he said. “Under the interpretation of family values, people won’t feel safe under this law.”
An appeal is scheduled for August 17.
Lobna Darwish, head of the gender and women’s rights department at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, goes further. “The charge of violating family values is more than ambiguous. It is meaningless.” she told Mada Masr. “Do we have laws that prohibit certain outfits or specific behaviors? And which women will have their behaviors prohibited? Why are some dances deemed provocative and others not? The state is attempting to control the internet on the one hand, and women on the other, even if they behave in a way that does not violate any defined crime.”
The five women convicted in Monday’s ruling are just some of nearly 10 women who have been arrested and held at detention facilities on similar charges since an arrest campaign began in April. The women face charges ranging from violating the values and principles of the Egyptian society and violating general modesty to evading arrest. Some of the women also face charges of prostitution and inciting others to prostitution.
Darwish noted that this campaign targets women who use social media, but it only targets a specific socioeconomic group, pointing out that all the women arrested so far are relatively poor.
In the run-up to the ruling, activists organized a campaign under the tongue-in-cheek hashtag “If the Egyptian family allows it” to drum up support and awareness for the detained women and to call for their release. Part of the campaign includes a petition calling on the National Council for Women to provide the women with legal support. The National Council for Women recently supported the largely upper class victims of alleged rapist Ahmed Bassem Zaki to file police complaints.
A verdict is expected to be handed down to another of the detained women, Manar Sami, on Wednesday.