Three years and a fine of 200,000 Egyptian Pounds (EP). Charged with human trafficking and incitement to immorality, that is the punishment the Cairo Criminal Court handed Hanin Hosam for inviting girls to post on the popular video sharing platform Likee.
“The court treated you with clemency,” said the judge Mohamed Ahmed al-Jundi. “The verdict took into account your youthful age, hoping that what has happened will be a lesson to you, and a deterrent to those who wish to imitate you in such a disgraceful act.”
Thus Al-Jundi presented his verdict reducing the previous sentence of ten to three years in prison and a fine of 200,000 EP to Hanin who, with her friend Mowada Al-Adham, have become known as Egypt’s “TikTok Girls.”
Hanin’s lawyer Hussein Al-Baqar told Daraj that the court indeed took Hanin’s relatively young age into consideration, as other defendants in the case were sentenced to six years in prison. However, he ignored the simple fact that his client only expressed herself on social media and never committed a crime.
Al-Baqar added that his client had already spent 21 months in prison, over half her current sentence. She may also be released in the nearest presidential pardon. In the first verdict in the case, Hanin was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, her friend Mowada and three others to six years. All of them also received a 200,000 EP fine.
During the trial, judge Al-Jundi had been quite hostile against Hanin and the other defendants, accusing them of corrupting national morals and values by using obscenity to achieve maximum viewers, make profit, and become a tool in human trafficking.
When sentenced to 10 years, Hanin appeared, shocked, in a video posted on Instagram and which she hesitatingly said: “I did what? Ten years? How? You want to imprison me again?” Hanin was arrested again on June 22, 2020, just four months after she had been released on bail
Hanin repeated her plea for help in every court session, up to the last sentencie. As the judge presented his verdict, accusing her of committing shameful acts, Hanin said: “By God, I regret nothing.” Then she choked, her eyes filling up with tears, and fell silent
Amnesty International is concerned about Hanin’s mental health, as she repeatedly expressed her despair during her court hearings. On December 20, 2021, she told the presiding judge: “I live in a swamp, in a swamp I swear, and I am dying 100 times every day because my future is lost.”
Hanin’s troubles began when she in a TikTok video called upon talented people to send videos and appear on the Likee and TikTok platforms for a small fee. In April and May 2020, Hanin and Mawada, and several Egyptian employees of the Likee company were arrested.
The prosecution had also ordered the arrest of Chinese officials of the App’s Singaporean owner Bigoo Technology, which in turn is owned by Chinese tech company JOYY. But Bigoo is not a young girl that must be made an example for violating the morals of society, but a large multinational with its largest Middle Eastern office located in Cairo. The Chinese officials were soon after their arrest and their names were never mentioned again.
The Chinese ambassador to Egypt visited the Egyptian Public Prosecutor in August 2020, affirming Bigoo Technology understood “the crime committed by Hanin, and respecting the court rulings issued against her.” The prosecutor announced the continuation of investigations, excluding Chinese officials.
Hanin, Mawaddah, and the company’s Egyptian employees, were charged with human trafficking and eventually sentenced to six and ten years in prison and a 200,000 EP fine. Hanin’s sentence was reduced to three.
Repressive Campaign Against Influencer
On March 18, Amnesty International launched a campaign calling on Egyptian President Sisi to overturn the sentences against Hanin Hosam and Mawaddah al-Adham and release them.
Amnesty International believes that they are being punished for “the way they dance, talk, dress and attempt to influence the public online,” amid the government’s systematic crackdown on women’s freedom of expression.
Since April 2020, the authorities have intensified their crackdown on social media influencers in “an apparent attempt to police women’s bodies” and “undermine their ability to earn an independent living,” Amnesty stated.
Ten women TikTok influencers have been arrested and convicted since for violating the draconian cyber-crimes law and other vague legal provisions related to decency and inciting immorality. According to Amnesty, those prosecuted “all have large followings on social media, ranging from hundreds of thousands to several million.” Nine of the 10 women were sentenced to prison terms ranging between two and 10 years and were given heavy fines.
Public Prosecution: Moral Guardian
Public Prosecution decided to play a paternalistic role and impose a moral code on Egyptian citizens, according to its perception of what those morals are, and what it calls the “values of the Egyptian family.”
The women it prosecuted were generally from a poor or middle class background, who earned some income using Apps such as TikTok and Likee.
They were used as an example to remind society of the patriarchy, of men’s control over women’s lives, and the fact that using the Internet does not come free, that there are rules, and whoever violates those rules will be held accountable … and even imprisoned.
The name “monitoring and analysis unit” appears, with most of the cases of expressing opinion through “Tik Tok” and “Like” and others. It is one of three units as part of the Department of Statement and Guidance, which was established by the Attorney General, at the end of 2019.
Despite the unit’s role in monitoring a number of important issues that were circulated on social media and taking legal action regarding them, it is also the second stop after reports and comments from social media followers in converting content makers on applications and social networking sites to the judiciary.
Investigate Rape and Torture
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) described the ruling against Hanin as a reflection of a systematic campaign aimed at imposing moral and societal guardianship on social media users, monitoring them, and punishing them with imprisonment. Part of the campaign is the disgraceful Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law, which legitimizes many of violations of (digital) freedom of expression.
The CIHRS called for Egyptian state agencies to rather assume their responsibility in investigating cases of rape and harassment, reports of torture and enforced disappearances, instead of imposing their moral perceptions on digital content makers.
The sentencing of Hanin and other female digital content creators is a showcase of discrimination against women, violating their fundamental right to self-expression, to control the female presence in the public sphere.