You wouldn’t think that taking a harmless video on your TikTok or Instagram account of you sharing your thoughts, promoting a social media platform or even dancing could lead to you spending time in a jail cell, right? Well, unfortunately in `Egypt this has been the case.
Since April 2020, several arrests took place against women for their video content posted on popular social media platform TikTok on the grounds of ‘violating family values, inciting immorality and debauchery’ as their videos were deemed ‘indecent’ by Egyptian authorities. In most of the videos, the women are fully dressed, singing and dancing to music.
“Arresting women and girls on very vague grounds simply for posting videos and photos of themselves on social media sites is discriminatory and directly violates their right to free expression,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Policing women’s peaceful conduct online smacks of a new effort to control women’s use of public spaces.”
Hanin Hossam, a 20 year old university student and social media personality with almost 1 million followers on TikTok was sentenced to two years in jail after she posted a three minute video encouraging young women to use another video sharing platform, Likee to meet men and earn money from how many people watch. Hossam along with four other social media influencers were sentenced to two years in jail with the appeal against the ruling is set at 300,000 Egyptian pounds (which roughly equates to £14,400).
In defence of these arrests, the Office of the Prosector General issued a statement in May declaring that “forces of evil” were abusing the “new virtual space” was set to “destroy our society, demolish its values and principles and steal its innocence.”
17 year old Aya also known as Menna Abdelaziz was arrested on May 28. A week prior, she had posted a video on TikTok accusing a young man and others for sexually assaulting her, filming the assault and blackmailing her by threatening to release the footage. In the video, she appeared bruised and said she was beaten by a group of men and women. She was said to be arrested for “inciting immorality and debauchery” by The Public Prosecution.
In June, the prosecution moved her to a women’s shelter run by the government to receive emotional support whilst the investigation continues. In July, the assailants were arrested and referred to criminal trials. However, the fact that a teenager is being prosecuted and hounded by officials for sharing her painful experiences of sexual abuse online, treated as if she is a criminal only further adds to her trauma irregardless if she is being placed in a women’s shelter run by the government.
Just last month, Egyptian court sentenced belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years for inciting ‘debauchery’ after she posted a video of her dancing on TikTok.
A petition on Change.org has been set up to appeal against their arrests and to seek justice against their imprisonment. So far, it has gathered over 130,000 signatures. The organisers of the petition explained themselves to be “We are a group of Egyptian women calling on state authorities to stop this crackdown on women on social media. We are also calling for the National Council of Women to provide legal support for all the nine who have been arrested.”
In Egypt, the government has cracked down to stricter laws on online activity with authorities having the right to block websites deemed to be a threat to national security and the right to police and personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. The country’s obligations to international human rights law and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights state that any limitations placed on freedom of expression must be in the interest of protecting national security, public health and morals in a democratic society. However, these morals must not be derived from religion, traditions or culture.
These vague laws surrounding what counts as ‘violating family values’ and ‘debauchery’ allows women to be unnecessarily arrested. It is an abuse of the rights to their own bodies, their voice and freedom of expression. Denying women of their right to broadcast their everyday lives or share their pain from the abuse they have endured does nothing to champion them or protect public health, it only violates their right to live. To support the injustice arrests of these women, you can show your support by signing the petition here.