Cairo court reduces TikTok influencer's jail sentence to three years

Haneen Hossam was initially given a 10-year sentence after being found guilty of human trafficking

The cases of Haneen Hossam and Mawada El Adham have raised questions about the criminalisation of online behaviour in Egypt, particularly when it comes to women. AFP
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A Cairo court has reduced Egyptian TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam’s 10-year prison sentence for human trafficking to three years.

The criminal court sentenced Hossam in her absence and issued a fine of 200,000 Egyptian pounds ($10,830). She was 19 at the time.

A written verdict explaining the reasons for the reduced sentence is expected within days, Mahmoud Hider of the Regional Centre for Rights and Liberties told The National.

The judge indicated the sentence was reduced owing to Hossam’s age and naivete, said Mr Hider, who was in court.

Hossam and fellow influencer Mawada El Adham, both now in their twenties, were accused of exploiting young girls and inciting them to immorality in exchange for money through social media platforms. They denied the charges.

There are real and serious cases of human trafficking that must be prosecuted - these TikTok cases are not it
Mai El Sadany, US-based human rights lawyer

The cases have ignited a fierce debate over the criminalisation of online behaviour in Egypt, particularly when it comes to women.

“The justice system is criminalising what influencers globally do every day when they invite others to work with them and monetise TikTok activity,” Mai El Sadany, a human rights lawyer in the US and director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said on Twitter.

“There are real and serious cases of human trafficking that must be prosecuted – these TikTok cases are not it."

Both women were arrested in 2020 and initially charged with breaching family values and inciting immorality.

Hossam, who had more than a million TikTok followers, encouraged women to post videos on Likee, a Singaporean streaming app that allows users to make money based on the number of followers they attract.

Ms El Adham, who had 3.1 million TikTok followers and 1.6 million Instagram followers, was accused of posting indecent lip-synching and dance videos. She also used Likee.

An appeals court acquitted the pair of the immorality charges in January, only to introduce the more severe charges of human trafficking.

Prosecutors say Likee was used by the women for prostitution.

Hossam was released on a bail of 5,000 pounds, while El Adham was kept in detention.

In June, the court found the pair guilty of human trafficking, sentencing Hossam to 10 years and El Adham to six years, in addition to fines of 200,000 pounds each.

Hossam was not present, despite an order from the public prosecution to appear in court.

Three men, including two Egyptian Likee employees, were found guilty of aiding the women and received six-year sentences, along with the same fines.

Prosecutors said Hossam and El Adham exploited girls in a state of economic vulnerability, promising to give them money in exchange for acts that were contrary to the principles and values of Egyptian society.

The crimes were committed by an organised group for the purposes of human trafficking, prosecutors said.

The Ministry of Interior arrested Hossam, who was in hiding, in accordance with the public prosecution order.

Mr Hider, whose organisation represented Hossam in the initial case against her, said he was surprised her sentence was reduced to three years.

“We thought that it would be six years, like the others,” he said.

It could mean there is still hope that the sentences will be reduced further, he said.

Updated: April 19, 2022, 2:27 PM