Egypt jails give social media influencers for two years

An Egyptian court has sentenced five female social media influencers to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals, a judicial source said.

The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they had posted footage on the video-sharing app TikTok. The ruling, which can be appealed, included a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (£14,600) for each defendant.

Hossam was arrested in April after posting a three-minute clip telling her 1.3 million followers that girls could make money by working with her. Authorities arrested Adham in May. She had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram, where she has at least 2 million followers.

The lawyer Ahmed Hamza al-Bahqiry said the young women were facing separate charges over the sources of their funds. The arrests highlight a social divide in the deeply conservative Muslim country over what constitutes individual freedoms and social norms.

The human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi has previously told AFP the influencers’ arrests showed how society was wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.

“The verdict is shocking, though it was expected. We will see what happens on appeal,” said the women’s rights lawyer Intissar al-Saeed. “It is still a dangerous indicator … Regardless of the divergent views on the content presented by the girls on TikTok, it still is not a reason for imprisonment.”

Egypt has been cracking down on female singers and dancers over online content it deems too suggestive.

Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced the belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years over “inciting debauchery” on social media after posting a TikTok dance video. In 2018, a female singer was detained on the same charge after an online video clip of her dancing went viral.

The previous year, a female pop singer was sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges, also over a video deemed provocative. Her sentence was reduced to a year on appeal.

“The charges of spreading debauchery or violating family values are very loose … and its definition is broad,” said Saeed.

In recent years, Egypt has enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites deemed a threat to national security. It also allows the monitoring of personal social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers.