Egyptian TikTok star Haneen Hossam has been sentenced to three years in prison following a retrial on “human trafficking” counts. 20-year-old Hossam first made headlines in April 2020 after being arrested for inviting fellow female followers to join the platform and sharing advice on how they can monetise their content on social media—an act the Cairo Criminal Court has viewed as exploitative.
But Hossam wasn’t the only young woman struck with such charges. Among the five that were arrested at the time, Maward Elhadham also made the news. The pair were facing serious prison time and in July 2020, were found guilty by Cairo’s Economic Court for “violating family values and principles,” the BBC reported. The TikTokers also faced huge fines of around 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($16,100; £12,400).
Denying the charges, Hossam was eventually acquitted in January 2021 and Elhadham’s two-year sentence for the distribution of ‘indecent’ imagery was also dropped. “Haneen went through a lot of psychological pressure because of being jailed for the past nine months,” lawyer Hussein El Bakar told Reuters in January 2021. However, progress did not last long as the young TikTok creators were later officially charged with “human trafficking”—a crime linked to her public invitation to motivate her followers in making money through live videos on the app.
Just six months later in July 2021, Hossam was sentenced (in absentia) to ten years while Adham, who was present in court that day, was stuck with six years of jail time. In a video posted after her sentencing, which has since been removed, Hossam pleaded with the president for a pardon, “Ten years! I didn’t do anything immoral to deserve all this. I was jailed for ten months and didn’t say a word after I was released… Why do you want to jail me again?”
The two-year-long saga had its latest update on Monday 18 April 2022 when a retrial cut the TikToker’s sentence from ten to three years—she will still have to face the large fines put to her. These cases have ignited outrage among activists in the country.
“What does it mean for an Egyptian court to convict TikTok vlogger Haneen Hossam on ‘human trafficking’ charges? It means that the justice system is criminalising what influencers globally do every day when they invite others to work with them and monetize TikTok activity,” Mai el-Sadany, managing director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in a tweet on the latest ruling.
“Women TikTok influencers are being punished for the way they dress, act, influence on social media, and earn money online,” said Amnesty International researcher Hussein Baoumi in Al Jazeera’s reporting. “This is part of the authorities’ attempts to control cyberspace by policing women’s bodies and conduct.” The double standard in the Egyptian courts’ treatment of women couldn’t be more clear in Newsweek’s investigation of male YouTubers dedicated to ‘exposing’ girls in the country on social media.
The publication surfaced a plethora of videos made by a group of verified YouTubers that aimed to have ‘TikTok girls’ castigated, imprisoned and even raped for their online dancing. Calling on the video platform to do something about the issue, Newsweek highlighted how such misogynistic users were being rewarded with Creator Award plaques (the iconic ‘Play Buttons’) for their attacking content—ironically while YouTube pushed the celebration of Women’s History Month throughout March.
Following Newsweek’s exposure, several videos have since been removed both by YouTube and the male creators themselves.