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Cairo court adjourns trial of TikTok girl accused of ‘human trafficking’

February 22, 2022 at 11:42 am

A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam, who was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

The Cairo Criminal Court has adjourned the trial of a social media influencer who has been charged with human trafficking and the commercial exploitation of children.

Haneen Hossam was arrested in 2020 and accused of promoting prostitution after explaining to her TikTok followers how they can make money on social media.

The public prosecution has said that Haneen “implicitly incited immorality, temptation and prostitution through video conversations and establishing friendships intending to obtain financial benefits.”

She was released on bail, rearrested two months later and then handed a ten-year jail sentence for human trafficking. She was fined 200,000 Egyptian pounds, then roughly $13,000.

At the time, executive director of the Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness said: “The ruling is harsh and exaggerated. Such a verdict restricts the right of freedom of opinion and expression and aims to control women’s bodies and impose guardianship over their actions.”

Haneen became one of several women known as the TikTok girls who were given jail time and large fines for various charges including “promoting immorality” and “inciting debauchery.”

READ: Egypt tightens censorship and proposes new law to stop journalists discussing religion

One of the women, Manar Samy, was accused of “stirring up instincts” after she posted a video of herself fully clothed dancing on a beach and was later interrogated for “violating family values.”

In the videos women are simply laughing and dancing. One was arrested after she was raped, filmed, and blackmailed with the footage.

Human rights campaigners have said the charges are degrading and bogus. In a campaign started last year, almost 300,000 people signed a petition to put pressure on the Egyptian government to release the TikTok women.

One of the petition signers wrote, “this is part of Egypt’s war against young women’s safety and their right to express themselves.”

Several human rights organisations demanded that the Egyptian government stop the trials, release the defendants and close the cases.

“The undersigned organisations affirm that these trials reflect the Egyptian authorities’ hostile attitude towards citizens’ free use of the internet,” the groups said in a statement.

“These trials show how the authorities are seeking to monitor social media accounts through the police and the public prosecution on the pretext of protecting family values.”

In 2018 the Egyptian government proposed new legislation to regulate social media users, including allowing the government to prosecute anyone with an account or blog with over 5,000 followers as they would a newspaper or TV programme.

The government has worked in various ways since 2013 to crack down on any individual with a high following as part of efforts to control free speech.