Five TikTok influencers have been arrested in Egypt over a comic sketch posted online.
Various reports identified Mohamad Hosam, Basma Hegazy and Ahmed Tarek, who between them have well over a million social media followers, among those detained by National Security Agency officials.
They are understood to have been targeted after posting a video online, entitled ‘The Visit’. It features a woman visiting her fiancé in jail and has been viewed over seven million times on Facebook alone.
The group reportedly face charges of spreading fake news and membership of a terrorist organisation, though it is unclear to which aspects of the parody clip these alleged offences pertain.
The charges have been brought under Egypt’s draconian anti-terror laws, which civil and human rights activists say are being abused to target even the most modest critics of the regime, as well as those deemed to be undermining societal values.
Other cases abound. Authorities arrested and later released three young men in April of last year for performing a parody of a romantic song in a TikTok video making light of price increases in the North African country.
The price changes were caused by a decision by Egypt’s Central Bank to devalue the national currency against the dollar.
Last year, 20-year-old influencer Haneen Hossam had a 10-year sentence cut down to three on charges of human trafficking by a Cairo court for posting a video on Instagram in which she explained how content can be monetised on the video platform Likee.
This was construed by authorities as encouraging women to sell sex online.
Many commentators have noted women are disproportionately targeted by such measures.
Mai El-Sadany, a prominent human rights lawyer, said of Hossam’s sentencing at the time: ‘What does it mean for an Egyptian court to convict TikTok vlogger on ‘human trafficking’ charges?
‘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.’
She added: ‘For the Egyptian state to instrumentalize ‘human trafficking’ charges to exert control over the expression & socioeconomic mobility of young women is deeply disturbing.
‘There are real and serious cases of human trafficking that must be prosecuted – these TikTok cases are not it.’
Amnesty International expressed similar concerns in a statement emailed to The New Arab at the time of Hossam’s initial conviction.
The advocacy organisation said: ‘Women TikTok influencers are being punished for the way they dress, act, influence on social media, and earn money online.
This is part of the authorities’ attempts to control cyberspace by policing women’s bodies and conduct.’