The Egyptian Court of Cassation has rejected an appeal by TikTok influencer Mawada Eladhm against a six-year prison sentence and a fine of EGP 200,000 ($12,500 USD) on human trafficking-related convictions. Mawada Eladhm and six others were charged with “violating family values and principles and establishing and running online accounts to commit this crime.”
Eladhm, who had gained fame for posting lip syncing and dance videos, had 3.1 million followers on TikTok and 1.6 million followers on Instagram. She was arrested in March 2020 and charged with “human trafficking and commercially exploiting two children by posting video clips of them on social media” in June of the same year.
Another well-known TikTok influencer, Haneen Hossam, was also acquitted on charges of violating family values and principles by a Cairo appeals court in January. Hossam, a university student in archaeology, had 1.2 million followers on TikTok and was arrested a few days after posting a video encouraging women to publish live videos and talk with strangers via the short video sharing platform Likee.
Egyptian authorities have arrested numerous female TikTok users known for controversial content that they describe as violating family values and principles.
“The charges are very vaguely worded,” Eladhm’s lawyer Ahmed Bahkiry told the BBC after the initial verdict was announced last year. “Prison cannot be a solution, even if some of her videos go against our social norms and traditions.”
Eladhm and Hossam both denied the charges and claimed that their videos were taken out of context. Hossam’s lawyer, Mahmmed Sammer, stated that her mother fainted at news of the acquittal, while both Hossam and Eladhm shouted in joy. Eladhm’s father, Fathy Rashad, said that his daughter had been “devastated by oppression and sadness” and would need psychological treatment.
The other three defendants in the case were charged with helping one of the girls evade arrest, concealing evidence of the crime, and publishing materials to influence public opinion about the case. One was also charged with possessing illegal software to facilitate the social media activity.
This case serves as a reminder of the important role social media plays in our lives and the responsibility that comes with it. It also highlights the ongoing debate around freedom of expression and censorship in Egypt.
Image Credit: Instagram