Five social media content creators and influencers have been arrested by Egypt’s National Security Agency and detained for 15 days, pending inquiry, after making a satirical video about a jail visit in January.
Basma Hegazy, Mohamed Hossam, Ahmed Tarek, Ahmed Ali El-Khouly, and one unknown person appear in the video and face charges such as “joining a terrorist group, funding terrorism, publishing false news, and using social media accounts to commit acts of terrorism,” Mokthar Mounir, a lawyer representing two of them, told Reuters on Wednesday.
The video about a visit to an Egyptian jail was released on January 13 and, according to Reuters, has already been seen over seven million times on Facebook. It is yet not clear what triggered the state authorities’ harsh response.
The arrest has led to widespread criticism. The International Commission of Jurists’ Middle East and North Africa Programme condemned the arrest, calling it “part of a broader campaign” to restrict and suppress “various forms of expression on the internet.” It asked the Egyptian authorities to release the five immediately.
Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is infamous for persecuting social media content creators. Under Egypt’s cybercrime law, put in place during the Al-Sisi presidency, people can be fined or imprisoned if they violate ‘family principles’ and ‘social values’ on social media. It also makes mandatory the monitoring of any account which has more than 5,000 followers.
Critics have noted that the terms ‘family principles’ and ‘social values’ have deliberately been left vague, enabling authorities to shut down any public expression even slightly critical of the president or state institutions.
Last year, TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for “human trafficking” and fined over USD 19,000 after “encouraging women to share footage on the video-sharing app in exchange for money,” as per Reuters. The arrest and sentencing were widely condemned by rights groups.
Similarly, last year, some social media influencers were also briefly arrested for releasing a parody song about rising inflation in the country.