Egyptian actress and former activist Amal Fathy was arrested for spreading “fake news” after sharing her story of sexual harassment on Facebook.
In her video, Fathy describes being harrassed on a trip to her bank and condemns the Egyptian government for a lack of legal protection for women to prevent such incidents. Forty-eight hours later Fathy, along with her husband, Mohamed Lotfy, and their young son were arrested in their home.
Egyptian activist Amal Fathy was sentenced to two years in prison for "publishing false news" and "slandering employees" at a state bank in a social media video that was critical of the government, according to a state-run newspaper https://t.co/sCeJ1TBfRx pic.twitter.com/25wk2Aqgyw
— CNN (@CNN) September 30, 2018
Though Fathy’s family was released, she was sentenced to two years of prison and fined 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($562) for “spreading false news with intent to harm the Egyptian state and possessing indecent material.”
According to her lawyer, Doaa Mustafa, Fathy would have to pay an additional 20,000 pounds to have her sentence suspended.
Fathy remains imprisoned until her second trial where she will face new charges of belonging to a terrorism organization.
“When a woman is subjected to sexual harassment and gets sentenced to two years and fined then this means we are telling all Egyptian women ‘shut your mouths …if you don’t want to go to prison,’” Lotfy said.
Fathy’s situation comes in the midst of a renewed crackdown on “fake news” in Egypt. New laws allow the government to shut down social media accounts that have over 5,000 followers without a court order, block websites with content considered to threaten national security and limit journalists to filming in unprohibited places without specifying what those places would be.
The Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media will oversee the enforcement of these laws and will be run by an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The unit was set up after el-Sisi claimed that Egypt was plagued with over 21,000 rumors over a three-month period this year.
“The real danger is blowing up countries from within,” el-Sissi said in July. “Rumors, terrorist acts, losing hope and frustration, all these (things) function in an incredible network aiming at one objective: to stir up people to destroy their country.”
Echoing some of President #DonaldTrump’s rhetoric, authorities in #Egypt are taking aim at an alleged barrage of “#fakenews” they say is meant to sow division and undermine the rule of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi https://t.co/wjZ1PMl3fh pic.twitter.com/gvjwxPIJBr
— Arab News (@arabnews) September 17, 2018
Critics claim these tactics are being used to silence activists bringing systemic issues to light such as sexual assault and harassment.
Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said to Reuters, “That power of interpretation has been a constant powerful legal and executive tool that was used to justify excessive aggressive and exceptional measures to go after journalists.”
Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director for Amnesty International, said, “This is an outrageous case of injustice, where the survivor is sentenced while the abuser remains at large.”
“She is a human rights defender and sexual harassment survivor who told her truth to the world and highlighted the vital issue of women’s safety in Egypt. She is not a criminal and should not be punished for her bravery.”
According to BBC, Human Rights Watch was also concerned that “Egyptian authorities are increasingly using counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts to unjustly prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for their peaceful criticism.”
#Egypt Amal Fathy is now facing a disgraceful sentence simply for her courage to speak out against sexual harassment. This is an outrageous case of injustice, she should be commended for her courage, not sentenced to prison. #freeAamalFathy https://t.co/g3HFsGGGIF pic.twitter.com/tzpmIsgdKs
— Amnesty North Africa (@AINorthAfrica) September 29, 2018
Despite growing international attention on Egypt’s treatment of social justice activists and the media, issues such as sexual assault continue to run rampant.
In 2011, the world watched as women were beaten and sexually assaulted during mass protests in Mubarak.
In 2013, a UN survey revealed that 99 percent of Egyptian women reported encountering sexual harassment. That year, el-Sisi came to power through a military coup and gained female support by promising to improve women’s safety.
In 2014, the government passed a law making the sentence for sexual harrassment up to five years in prison but is rarely enforced because women are discouraged from speaking out, as shown by Fathy’s case.
In 2017, Egyptian women still did not feel protected by their government. According to Al Jazeera, a report from UN Women and Promundo revealed that 60 percent of women have been victims of sexual harassment.
That same year, Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll ranked Cairo as the “most dangerous megacity in the world for women.” These reports make it hard to substantiate any claim of “fake news.”