A female TikTok influencer from Egypt, Haneen Hossam, recently had her content on the platform send her to jail. The only thing she did was what influencers generally do – she invited and taught other users to monetize their social media activity. For this, the young woman was charged with “human trafficking” and sentenced to three years in prison.
Hannen is a woman in her early twenties and a Cairo University student. At the moment of writing this, she has nearly a million followers on TikTok where she dances and lip-syncs to different songs. According to the BBC, she was first arrested in 2020. She was asking her women followers to join Likee (another video sharing platform) and monetize their activity by live streaming videos. In July the same year, Cairo’s Economic Court charged Hannen and another Egyptian TikToker, Mawada al-Adham, with “violating family values and principles.” The court sentenced them to two years in prison and fined them 300,000 Egyptian pounds (around $16,200).
After this, an appeals court dropped charges against Hannen and overturned Mawada’s prison sentence, the BBC reports. However, it got worse. The prosecutors said that the influencers were “using girls in acts contrary to the principles and values of Egyptian society with the aim of gaining material benefits,” and they were charged with human trafficking.
In June this year, both Hannen and Mawada were found guilty of the human trafficking charges. Hannen was initially sentenced in absentia to ten years in jail. She was granted a retrial, but she was still found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail, plus a fine of 200,000 Egyptian pounds (around $11,000). Mawada was present in court for the first trial and she got a six-year sentence.
I was honestly shocked when I read this and realized that these girls basically ended up in jail for doing what all influencers do. This is also what Mai El-Sadany says. She is a US-based human rights lawyer and director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “What does it mean for an Egyptian court to convict TikTok vlogger Haneen Hossam on ‘human trafficking’ charges,” Mai El-Sadany asks in her tweet. “It means that the justice system is criminalizing what influencers globally do every day when they invite others to work with them and monetize TikTok activity.”
According to the BBC, some human rights activists say that Hannen has been prosecuted “as part of a crackdown on female social media influencers.” According to this source, she and “at least 11 other women with millions of followers have faced since 2020 violate the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and bodily autonomy.”