TikTok star Mawada al-Adham (who racked up over 3 million followers on the app, with a further 1.6 million fans on Instagram) has been sentenced to two years in prison for breaking Egyptian “family values”. Her content, in comparison to millions of others on social media, would not appear especially shocking to a UK viewer – think lip-syncing whilst wearing ripped skinny jeans – but in her native Egypt, a prosecutor deemed it to be “indecent”. She was also issued a fine of $20,000 (£15,300).
According to a BBC report, Mawada’s sister, Rahma, said, “We were left in utter shock. She did nothing wrong – my sister is not a criminal. She only wanted to be famous and popular.” Mawada, like many influencers with a high number of followers, was also working with well-known fashion brands too.
According to her sister, she had ambitions to one day become an actress. “Mawada was just too ambitious. She dreamt of being an actress. Why her? Some actresses dress in a very explicit way. Nobody touches them.”
It’s reported that images used against Mawada in court came about after her phone was stolen. The BBC writes that she fainted after the verdict was delivered. “She’s totally devastated, the charges are very vaguely worded,” said her lawyer, Ahmed Bahkiry. “Prison cannot be a solution, even if some of her videos go against our social norms and traditions. Prisons create criminals. The authorities could have resorted to rehabilitation instead.”
Another shocking element to this case is that Mawada is not alone: four others have also been sentenced to jail time and been given a fine, for similar displays of “indecency”. Three remain unnamed in the press, but another is Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old student at Cairo University, according to Al Jazeera.
However, The Sun adds that Haneen was also accused of encouraging younger app users to chat with older men in exchange for money (of which she’d take a cut). She has denied this. Her sentence is said to be for crimes relating to “violating the values and principles of the Egyptian family”, as well as promoting human trafficking and inciting debauchery.
The prosecuting office said it’s cracking down on those using digital platforms to “[adopt] a reckless and licentious lifestyle, in search of worthless fame and success… they [the five women in question] pursued illegal paths to make money, falsely believing this is a form of freedom of speech”.
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Now, human rights organisations are fighting for all five women to be released, with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, saying these cases all display blatant signs of gender discrimination.
“Women are only allowed to express themselves on social media according to the state’s dictations,” said executive director, Mohamed Lotfy. “The girls are accused of breaching Egyptian family values, but no-one has ever defined these values. The authorities have made it clear: you are not free to say or do whatever you like, even if you are not talking politics at all. There are lines which are not to be crossed.
Egypt has a law in place allowing authorities to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. All five women are appealing against their convictions, with a hearing slated for 14 September.
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Source: Cosmo Politian
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