Egyptian police on Tuesday arrested a Tiktok star who has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for her posts on social media.
Haneen Hossam, a 20-year-old Cairo University student who became an influencer on video-sharing app Tiktok, was sentenced in absentia on Sunday alongside four others.
While all five were fined 2,000 Egyptian pounds (£9,160) for encouraging women to share videos in exchange for money, which Egyptian authorities equated to human trafficking, Ms Hossam received a harsher prison sentence, which her lawyer attributed to her not appearing in court.
On Monday Ms Hossam released a video begging for clemency, saying she had never harmed anyone.
Her arrest was the latest episode in nearly a year of legal proceedings against the five for “inciting debauchery” by publishing online videos, which prosecutors claim violated social norms in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.
Ms Hossam was first arrested last year after posting a video explaining how women could earn money by posting videos online, which authorities interpreted as encouraging online prostitution. “You will be able to form friendships with people in a respectable way,” she said in the video.
She was first convicted in July alongside another female social media influencer Mawaddah Al-Adham, who was found guilty of sharing “indecent” photos and videos with her 1 million Instagram followers, and three men who were accused of helping the two women.
The charges were overturned on appeal in January and the five were released in February after spending eight months in jail.
But after prosecutors introduced new charges of human trafficking, all five were found guilty on Sunday, with the other four ordered to serve six years.
The content produced by the women was banal by the standards of Western social media use and included dance videos and photos of the two women posing in fashionable attire.
Ms Al-Adham had shared videos of herself dancing in a shark onesie, posing in a convertible, and performing short sketches.
Ms Hossam, who wears a headscarf, had posted a video in which she promoted the video-sharing platform Likee, saying women could make good money for posting lives and talking with people.
But amid an ongoing crackdown of personal freedoms under the oppressive rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who came to power in a 2013 coup, female social media stars, singers, and dancers have been targeted by reactionary authorities.
The government has introduced strict internet controls including blocking websites and monitoring personal social media accounts. Content deemed racy or suggestive has been prosecuted under vague offenses like “misusing social media”, or “inciting immorality”.
Rights groups condemned Egyptian authorities for prosecuting online conduct.
“These sentences against women and men represent egregious violations against free speech online, right to privacy, and nondiscrimination and reveal the government’s continued persecution of women for their peaceful conduct online,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The use of human trafficking charges, in particular, betrays at best a failure to understand the real crime of human trafficking and at worst, using a serious charge to criminalize peaceful online conduct by women,” she added.
Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Egyptian organization Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness said: “Such a verdict restricts the right to freedom of opinion and expression and aims to control women’s bodies and impose guardianship over their actions.”
Ms Hossam, who has deleted her past social media activity, posted several tearful videos pleading for clemency ahead of her latest arrest.
“Ten years! I didn’t do anything immoral to deserve all this. I was jailed for 10 months and didn’t say a word after I was released… Why do you want to jail me again?” she asked.