Egypt sentences TikTok star to 10 years in prison for 'human trafficking'
A photo from the Instagram account of Hanen Hosaam, a 20-year-old student at Cairo University
Egyptian police on Tuesday arrested a Tiktok star who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting on social media.
Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old Cairo University student who influenced the video-sharing app Tiktok, was sentenced in absentia along with four others on Sunday.
While all five were fined 2,000 Egyptian pounds (£ 9,160) for encouraging women to share videos for money, which the Egyptian authorities equated with human trafficking, Ms. Hossam received a tougher prison sentence, which her lawyer received on her failure to show returned to court.
"It was her legal right not to appear," said her lawyer, Hani Sameh, and announced that she would appeal the verdict. "We hope she gets a reduced prison sentence or an acquittal."
On Monday, Ms. Hossam posted a video begging for mercy and saying she had never harmed anyone.
Their arrest was the latest episode in nearly a year of trial of the five for "inciting debauchery" by posting online videos prosecutors claim violate social norms in the conservative Muslim nation to have.
Ms. Hossam was arrested for the first time last year after she posted a video explaining how women can make money by posting videos online, which authorities interpreted as promoting online prostitution. "You will be able to make friends with people legitimately," she said in the video.
She was first found guilty of sharing “indecent” photos and videos with her 1 million Instagram followers along with another female social media influencer, Mawaddah Al-Adham, and three men accused of doing so to have helped the two women.
Ms. Hossam, whose social media posts were attacked for violating “traditional values”, asked for mercy on Monday
The charges were overturned on appeal in January, and the five were released in February after serving eight months in prison.
But after prosecutors brought new human trafficking charges, all five were found guilty on Sunday and the other four were sentenced to six years in prison.
The content produced by the women was mundane by the standards of Western social media usage and included dance videos and photos of the two women posing in fashionable clothes.
Ms. Al-Adham had shared videos of dancing in a shark romper, posing in a convertible and showing brief sketches.
Ms. Hossam, who wears a headscarf, had posted a video promoting the video sharing platform Likee, saying that women could make good money by posting life and talking to people.
But amid an ongoing crackdown on personal freedoms under the repressive rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who came to power in a 2013 coup, female social media stars, singers and dancers have been targeted by reactionary authorities.
The government has put in place strict internet controls, including blocking websites and monitoring personal social media accounts. Content perceived as racist or suggestive has been prosecuted under vague crimes such as “abuse of social media” or “inciting immorality”.
Human rights groups condemned the Egyptian authorities for prosecuting online behavior.
"These judgments against women and men represent egregious violations of online freedom of expression, privacy and non-discrimination, and show the government's continued persecution of women for their peaceful online behavior," said Rothna Begum, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"In particular, the use of human trafficking charges betrays a misunderstanding of the real crime of human trafficking at best and, at worst, a serious charge to criminalize peaceful online behavior by women," she added.
Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Egyptian organization Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, said: "Such a ruling restricts the right to freedom of expression and expression and aims to control women's bodies and to guardianship of their actions."
Ms. Hossam, who has deleted her previous social media activity, posted several tearful videos pleading for mercy prior to her recent arrest.
“Ten years! I haven't done anything immoral to deserve all of this. I was locked up for 10 months and didn't say a word after my release ... Why do you want to lock me up again? ”She asked.
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