«Threatening the values of the Egyptian family»: How the state imposes its control on the public space by imprisoning TikTok girls

“If the Egyptian family would approve” was the hashtag used in circulating campaigns on social media to release women arrested on charges of violating the principles and family values of the Egyptian society. On April 23, 2020, the government started targeting women on account of using the social networking site TikTok as Cairo University student, Haneen Hossam, was arrested on charges of “Threatening the values of the Egyptian family and Egyptian society, inciting immorality, debauchery and the practice of vice”.  Soon after, eight more women were accused of similar charges.  

“If the Egyptian State would approve” might be another suitable phrase for demanding women’s freedom to control their own bodies without anyone’s guardianship. This state, which is now headed by Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, is the same one in which women were subjected to compulsory virginity tests in 2011, with a declaration and recognition from the then chief of Military Intelligence, also, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. No one has been held accountable for the abuse of these women’s bodies, nor have those responsible for the violations that have followed. This may occur once again with one of the defendants in this case. 

Nobody knows exactly what are the values of this Egyptian family that had been violated by those nine women, as the legislator deals with the matter as if all the 100 million Egyptians are within a single military army that is subject to the same standards and adopts the same values ​​and adheres to the same customs. As a result, the Public Prosecution has used vague and unspecified vocabulary to broaden its authority to indict and arrest those who are not subject to its standards, violating rights to freedom of opinion and expression which are guaranteed by the constitution. According to the Egyptian authorities, a short video clip on the social networking site TikTok, in which a woman dances or sings, can be considered incriminating evidence that requires trial and punishment through restricted freedom. Being a woman in a country that has not yet passed a law to address domestic violence means that you are at risk most of the time. Being a woman in Egypt, while not belonging to a privileged social class that can protect you, means that you are under constant suspicion.

Nine women had been arrested in connection with reports filed against them by male content makers. On May 14, Mawda el-Adham was arrested to join the same case as Haneen. On May 26, the security forces arrested Menna Abdel Aziz (Aya Abdel Aziz) for publishing a video clip in which she sought help from the Public Prosecution, to support her against her rapist who filmed his assault in order to blackmail her. The prosecution did not respond to Menna’s appeal as a victim or at the very least as a plaintiff who reported assault but she was rather treated as a defendant and was taken in custody. It is worth noting that the Public Prosecutor referred six defendants to the criminal court on accusations of assaulting Menna Abdel Aziz, with charges of “threatening, kidnapping with coercion, and violating the sanctity of her private life on the Internet, as well as battering her, damaging her phone and threatening to disclose things that would negatively impact her honor.”

Afterwards the number of women facing the possibility of criminal penalty increased, to protect the Egyptian family from them, as Sherifa Rifaat (Sherry Hanim) and her daughter Nora Hisham (Zumorada) were arrested on June 10, then on July 1, Manar Sami and Rinad Imad were arrested, followed by Hadeer Al-Hadi on July 6, and the list has ended so far with the arrest of Basant Mohamed on July 10, 2020.

Let’s take a moment and look more broadly at the scene of initiating the proceeding of lawsuits against TikTok girls and arresting them. All the reports that the prosecution received were for fear of tampering with and assaulting the values ​​of the Egyptian family, defined by nobody, were against women, but what is not surprising is that all those reports were filed by men; worse they are men who are also content creators that they can be considered competitors, if there is such competition on social media. A matter that can be considered a form of maliciousness, but the Egyptian state cannot turn a blind eye to possible violations of family values which are only known to the state. The state cannot tolerate the presence of women doing what they like in this country, it did not deal with the male content creators who filed these reports as instigators, but rather through initiating prosecution based on their reports, explicitly declaring its support for a culture where men control women and their bodies, and supporting the culture of patriarchal guardianship, where it is acceptable for men to use their male privilege in monitoring and holding women accountable.

Vague accusations

The Public Prosecution filed a criminal case against Haneen Hossam, Mawaddah Al-Adham, and three other men, but accusations related to the values of the Egyptian family affected only the two girls, as the state only foresees danger and harm from women who are the sole threat to values of the Egyptian family, which remain obscure and undefined to us. Here we present the accusations against Haneen Hossam along with procedural violations in conflict with the law.

The Accusations: 

1- Violating family principles and values of the Egyptian society.

2- Creating and managing a private account on the international information network(the internet), with the aim of committing the crime in question.

The Public Prosecution requested that Haneen Hossam be punished in accordance with Articles 22-25 -27 of Law 175/2018 regarding combating information technology crimes, and the terms of the penalties for these crimes range between six months to three years and a fine from 50 thousand pounds to 300 thousand Egyptian pounds.

The Supreme Constitutional Court held that “punitive texts must be drafted in a clear and specific manner”, but this does not apply to the Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes, as the first paragraph of Article 25 of the law states that “anyone who assaults any of the family principles or values in society An Egyptian or violates the sanctity of private life, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of no less than six months, and by a fine of no less than fifty thousand pounds and not exceeding one hundred thousand pounds, or by one of these two penalties.” The law did not mention or clarify what these principles and values were.

The detailed clarification may have been left to the executive regulations of the law that have not been issued yet despite the law being issued and published in the Official Gazette on 8/14/2018. Failure to issue the executive regulations of the law does not result in stopping the implementation of it, but in this case and due to the lack of interpretation, the situation is overshadowed by a kind of ambiguity that allows the judge to rule according to his personal opinion in condemning or exonerating a person without referring to a clear and specific text, which can be considered a form of obscenity in the law, especially because of its restrictive of freedom penalty.

As for the video that is the subject of the accusation and counts as admissible evidence, it does not contain any obscene words and does not include any invitation to meetings that punishable by law, and in the end, any interpretation or labels and context added  to the video is nothing but a jurisprudence referring to beliefs that are not binding to any of the women subject to the accusations, whether from the plaintiffs, prosecutors, or judges ruling on the case.

On July 27, 2020, the Misdemeanor Economic Court sentenced Haneen Hossam, Mawada Al Adham, and three others to imprisonment for two years, in addition to fining them with  300,000 Egyptian pounds. While three men were convicted in the same case, but for participating through means of agreeing and assisting with Hanin and Mawada in the accusations attributed to them.

The court ruled that the two girls be imprisoned and fined with 300 thousand Egyptian pounds, which is the maximum stipulated by the law. We do not know if the court took into account their young age, or that they don’t possess this amount of money, and we do not know the purpose of the fine whether it was a deterrent punishment from the court’s point of view or was it a form of arbitrariness?

Defective procedures

Haneen Hossam was subjected to numerous violations during her imprisonment; throughout the investigation and pretrial detention she was dealt with in violation of the law, with regard to the arrest and habeas corpus, and the procedures that the judicial control officer followed, as well as the prosecution.

The minutes of the adjustment and the habeas corpus are invalid: Article (127) of the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that for the  regulations and conditions that must be met in the requisition report for to be valid, “It has to include the name of the defendant, their surname, profession, place of residence, the charges attributed to them, date of the order, the judge’s signature and the official seal.”

These matters were not present in the report of the arrest and summoning of Haneen Hossam, where all information about her were missing in the requisition report except for mentioning the incident in brief and the defendant’s binomial name (Haneen Hossam), a student at the Faculty of Archeology, leaving out the rest of the information and details for investigations and the arrest warrant, and thus making the report invalid, as it was necessary for the investigations to precede the requisition report in order for it to be valid.

Judicial arrest procedures: The Criminal Procedures Law clarified the powers, duties and role of the Judicial Enforcement Officer, whereas the law did not give him the power to confront the defendant with any of the seizures or evidence, especially those that are sealed or closed in any other way, as they must notify the Public Prosecution about them, following that the Public Prosecution, if it deems it necessary,  will refer the matter to the summary judge. In the case of Haneen Hossam, the police officer violated the Criminal Procedure Law and decided on his own initiative to check the defendant’s personal phone and laptop and confront her with the data on them, which is considered a violation of the law, and this procedure opens the door to questioning the safety of the evidence, and suggests the possibility of tampering with it.

The prosecution’s appeal against the defendants’s appeal: Article 167 of the Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that “the decisions issued by the counseling room shall be final in all cases,” which means that it is not permissible to appeal the appeal. Article 150 of the Criminal Procedure Law states, “The order issued for release does not prevent the investigating judge from issuing a new order to arrest the defendants and re-imprisoning them if new evidence appears against them.” In this case, the law stipulated for the validity of the procedure the emergence of new evidence that was not already in the records, and in the case of Haneen Hossam it was the new evidence that the prosecution relied on is the “technical evidence for the video of the accused and confronting her with it.” The prosecution had previously confronted Haneen with the same video and discussed it with her. This indicates that the prosecution violated the law and circumvented the situation to re-imprison Haneen Hossam using evidence that was present in the case records from the start.

The matter goes beyond criminal suspicion and accusations of defamation and incitement, since the beginning of the arrest of Haneen Hossam on April 23, 2020 and the women who were subsequently arrested over the course of 3 months, they have all been subjected to a campaign of defamation, without even being proven guilty if we concede with the validity and reasonableness of placing them under trial in the first place.

Lengthy statements issued by the Attorney General, reflecting his lack of impartiality as well as his condemnation of the TikTok women, ignoring the principle of innocence until proven guilty as well as imposing his personal perceptions of what should and should not be. The Attorney General has created a complete unit to monitor the performance of social media users.In the incident of leaking private pictures of Mawada Al-Adham , which is considered an infringement on her private life, and the Egyptian judiciary did not investigate the truth of these accusations, and did not try to reach their motives if they were correct, not only that, but also called for the “investigation report transcript” to reveal her virginity, in an affirmation of how the State perceives women, and its insistence on violating their bodies, which confirms that the criminal justice system in Egypt is a primarily punitive system, through which judgments are issued to improve the external image and export that the state as tightening its grip on everyone, in a situation that is far from reformative criminal justice.

The Egyptian Front rejects the verdict issued against Haneen Huossam and Mawaddah Al-Adham, and calls on the Public Prosecutor to stop being preoccupied with what women do on social media, and rather pay attention to the reports of torture and enforced disappearances that accumulate in his office without response. The front also calls on the Egyptian parliament to take the information technology law into consideration and define the vague values of the family,  the front also calls on the National Council for Women to carry out its duty and work to support the TikTok women and provide them with legal and moral support.

The Egyptian Front for Human Rights condemns the performance of the Public Prosecution Office in dealing with the reports and the absence of their impartiality, and facilitating the targeting of women, especially in light of the speedy verdict issued against the defendants unlike the situation in the cases of harassment for instance, which need a long time to be referred and adjudicated. The Front also rejects the current legislative status, which allows the imposition of supervision and guardianship, especially on women, and on all those who do not fit the “official standards” of what is a good citizen. The Front demands the immediate and unconditional release of the nine women accused of exercising their freedoms, and the preservation of lawsuits filed against them, as well as the necessity of starting a societal debate on the articles of the law that were used to file charges against women who only used the Internet.

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