Cairo (AFP) – An Egyptian court Monday 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 video-sharing app TikTok.
“The Cairo economic court sentenced Hossam, Adham and three others to two years after they were convicted of violating society’s values,” the judicial source said.
The ruling, which can be appealed, included a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($18,750) for each defendant, the source noted.
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.
In May, authorities arrested Adham who had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram, where she has at least two million followers.
Lawyer Ahmed Hamza al-Bahqiry said the young women are 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”.
Human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi has previously told AFP that the influencers’ arrests showed how society was wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.
Internet penetration has reached over 40 percent of Egypt’s youthful population of more than 100 million.
– ‘Dangerous indicator’ –
“The verdict is shocking, though it was expected. We will see what happens on appeal,” said women 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 in recent years cracked down on female singers and dancers over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.
Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced 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 for “incitement to debauchery” after an online video clip which included sensual oriental dance moves 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.
Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites deemed a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.