Five Egyptian women have been sentenced to 2 years in jail over what the North African country's authorities have said is a violation of public morals with their TikTok videos. The five women were also fined 300,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $19,000).

Specifically, Egyptian authorities said that the women's TikTok videos were "violating the values and principles of the Egyptian family, inciting debauchery and promoting human trafficking." Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others can appeal their sentences.

One of the videos used as evidence against Hossam when she was arrested during April 2020 she tells her over 1 million followers on TikTok that other women and girls could make money by working with her. On the other hand, Adham was arrested during May 2020 for posting satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram to her millions of followers.

Some of Haneen Hossam's TikTok videos.

Censorship and freedom of speech under President al-Sisi

During 2018, Egypt's parliament approved and passed a law that will saw social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers being regulated and treated like media outlets. The main reason behind the law, according to authorities at the time, was to monitor and regulate social media accounts that allegedly create, publish, and distribute fake news.

However, since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, became the country's president, it appears the motive behind the law was more to censor the media and restrict people's rights to express themselves.

For example, during 2019 Egyptian police randomly searched people's mobile devices and arrested some who were involved in protests against President Al Sisi. It is reported that about 1,900 Egyptians were arrested because of this for online dissent. Furthermore, under al-Sisi, authorities have also continued to block several local and international news media citing fake news.

Shocking verdict

According to Tarek al-Awadi, a human rights lawyer, the arrests of the Egyptian social media influencers shows that the country is battling to keep up with how to handle new technologies.

β€œThe verdict is shocking, though it was expected. We will see what happens on appeal. 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,” said Intissar al-Saeed, another human rights lawyer.

A petition has been launched on Change.org by a group of women putting pressure on Egypt's authorities to release the women, including the other three who are reported to be responsible for managing Haneen Hossam and Mowada al-Adham's social media accounts.

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