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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Explained: Who are Egypt’s ‘TikTok girls’ set to be released from jail?

Mawada al-Adham and Haneen Hossam– popularly known in the country as the “TikTok girls”– were sentenced in July to two years in jail for “attacking society’s values” and “breaching public morals” with their videos.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 14, 2021 10:29:51 am
Hossam and Adham are both highly popular on the TikTok video-sharing app, whose use has boomed among Egyptians since the government’s Covid-19 lockdowns put restrictions on movement. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Two Egyptian women, who had been imprisoned last year for posting “indecent videos” on TikTok, were on Tuesday given relief by a local court which overturned their jail terms, according to state news outlet Ahram Online.

Mawada al-Adham and Haneen Hossam– popularly known in the country as the “TikTok girls”– were sentenced in July to two years in jail for “attacking society’s values” and “breaching public morals” with their videos.

“The court of appeal accepted the appeal filed by Haneen Hossam and Mawada al-Adham against their imprisonment … on charges of incitement to debauchery and attacking society’s values,” a court official said on Tuesday to the AFP news agency, asking not to be named.

Egypt’s “TikTok girls”

Hossam and Adham are both highly popular on the TikTok video-sharing app, whose use has boomed among Egyptians since the government’s Covid-19 lockdowns put restrictions on movement.

Hossam, a college student in archaeology, was arrested in April after she posted a 3-minute video on TikTok telling her followers that girls could make money by broadcasting videos on the Likee app. At the time of her arrest, Hossam had 13 lakh followers on Tiktok.

Adham, who is in her early 20s, was arrested in May, after she posted satirical videos to TikTok and Instagram, where she had a following of 31 lakh and 16 lakh respectively.

Hossam and Adham, along with three others, were charged with inciting “debauchery”– an accusation that is used against a range of acts that Egyptian authorities choose to interpret as “against Egyptian society’s traditions and morals”, as per a BBC report.

The court ruling

In July, Adham and Hossam, along with three other defendants, were sentenced to two years in jail, and were ordered to pay a fine of 3 lakh Egyptian pounds (around Rs 14 lakh).

As per a BBC report, Hossam has now been acquitted of all charges, but Adham and the remaining three defendants still have to pay the fines. A Reuters report, however, said that Hossam continues to face charges of human trafficking. The three other persons, whose sentences have also been overturned, have not been identified.

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Pushback against women performers

Observers say that Egypt, which is known to be considerably more liberal than Gulf Arab states, has seen conservatives clamping down personal freedoms in the recent past, especially after President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2013.

Last year, Egypt’s parliamentarians accused TikTok of spreading immorality and nudity, and asked the government to ban the app in the country.

In June, belly dancer Sama al-Masry was sentenced to three years for the same charge of “inciting debauchery” after she posted a dance video on TikTok. The charge was also pressed in 2018 against a female singer, after a dance video of her’s went viral.

Experts suggest that as more number of Egyptian women use social media, confrontations with authorities tasked with protecting the country’s conservative values are bound to increase.

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