Two Egyptian women with significant followings on social media streaming platforms have received extreme sentences after being charged with human trafficking. Internet freedom activists have denounced the charges, calling them baseless fabrications and a government tool for cracking down on free speech online.
The two were among nine individuals charged last year for 'violating family values' after posting videos of themselves dancing, singing, and encouraging others to earn income by starting their own influencer followings. BBC reports that an appeal eventually dropped the charges, but two of the women were later arrested for child exploitation after minors appeared in their videos. Several employees of the various platforms were sentenced to fines of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian pounds.
Judge Mohamed al-Guindy, who passed the sentence, said social media sites were using "debauchery" to attract people and constituted a moral threat to family life.
Egypt's public prosecution and State Information Service, as well as TikTok, did not respond to requests for comment Likee, one of the platforms used, said that "it could not comment on active legal cases but that it respected local culture and customs and cooperated with local authorities as required". Judicial sources said the prosecution had launched an investigation into the case in its role as a defender of moral values.
BBC reports that lawyers for the two influencers accused say that their clients intend to ask for clemency, with one of them saying, "Ten years? I never did anything to deserve this!" and that the videos in question were of no harm to anyone.