Egyptian woman jailed after speaking out against sexual harassment

Amal Fathy said she was sexually harassed while visiting a bank.Courtesy of Amnesty International

Actor and activist Amal Fathy has been sentenced to two years in prison in Egypt after speaking out against sexual harassment in a video she posted on Facebook.

She is the second woman in a year to be jailed for publicly criticising the treatment of women in the country.

On top of being fined for making "public insults", Fathy was sentenced to two years in jail for "spreading false news" and "possessing indecent material" after she posted a video on Facebook detailing how she was sexually harassed while going to the bank.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say the case is another example of political repression in Egypt and the deteriorating situation for women in the country.

'Even the police officer was touching himself'

A trip to the bank in May led Amal Fathy to express her disgust at the behaviour of Egyptian men in a Facebook video.

"Even the police officer who was guarding the bank, he was standing and touching himself," she said in the video.

"He was making filthy movements and talking to me harshly," she said.

"Where on Earth will you see a police officer harassing women? To hell with these corrupt police!"

Photo A mural in Cairo depicts a girl running and the anti-sexual harassment message "Safe cities" written in Arabic.

A mural in Cairo depicting the silhouette of a girl running, and anti-sexual harassment message in Arabic reading 'Safe cities'Reuters: Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Two days after she uploaded the video, police raided Fathy's house and arrested her, her husband Mohammed Lofty, and the couple's three-year-old son.

Her husband and child were later released, but Fathy remained in custody.

On the weekend, she was fined for one charge of libel, and her lawyer Ramadan Mohamed said she was sentenced to jail on two other counts.

"This ruling was issued based on two charges, the first of which is the spreading of false news, and the second was the publication of video material containing indecent matters," Mr Mohamed told AM.

The sentence allows Fathy to post bail and get out of jail while her case is under appeal, but she is instead being kept in pre-trial detention on separate charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

Amnesty International researcher Hussein Baoumi said Fathy's lawyer had not even been told which terrorist organisation Fathy allegedly belongs to because the case concerns state security.

Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International's North Africa campaigns director, called on the Egyptian authorities in a press release and on social media to immediately and unconditionally release Fathy and drop all charges.

"Her imprisonment for peacefully expressing her opinions is an affront to the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Egypt's own constitution and its international obligations, as well as Egypt's repeated commitments to combat sexual harassment," she said.

Jailing part of a broader crackdown

Mr Baoumi said Fathy was one of many people being targeted as part of a general crackdown on dissent in Egypt.

Fathy's husband is a human rights lawyer and the director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a human rights organisation.

He has been actively appealing against her detention since she was arrested.

"These charges do not have any foundation," he said in a report to Amnesty International.

"They are absurd and ridiculous."

The Egyptian Parliament passed a bill in July targeting social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers, which will now be treated as media outlets, subject to prosecution if they are found to be spreading "fake news" or inciting unrest.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ratified the law in August.

Mr Sisi, a former general, led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has drawn criticism from the United Nations for his ongoing crackdown on dissent in the country.

Photo "We are the men of Facebook" is written on the ground as anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, after a bill was passed targeting social media accounts accused of publishing "fake news".

AP: Tara Todras-Whitehill, File

"They have destroyed political parties, they have cracked down on the streets, they have silenced media, they are silencing artists", Mr Baoumi said.

"Now they are silencing social media through a number of repressive legislations."

"In a sense, they have turned Egypt into an open-air prison where no one is allowed to oppose the Government in any form."

The case is the second example of the Egyptian Government punishing women for complaining about the behaviour of men.

In June, Lebanese tourist Mona Al Mazbouh was arrested for posting an "abusive video" on Facebook in which she complained about being sexually harassed in Cairo.

Photo Lebanese tourist Mona el-Mazbouh was arrested in Egypt for complaining about sexual harassment online.

Portrait of Mona el-Mazbouh, Lebanese tourist arrested in Egypt for complaining about sexual harassment online, in a hatFacebook

"This is my fourth time coming to visit Egypt, and I keep making the same mistake," she said in the video.

"Every year I see things getting worse than the year before. When are you people going to become civilised?"

Ms Al Mazbouh was sentenced to eight years in prison for "spreading false rumours", "attacking religion" and "public indecency".

But she was deported to Lebanon last month after an appeals court reduced her sentence and suspended the remainder.

Mr Baoumi said the Egyptian Government was particularly sensitive to criticism from women about sexual harassment.

"When a woman comes out and criticises how the Government has been dealing with that, if they allow that go, then they are admitting their own failure," he said.

"They are admitting that they have failed to police the streets. They have failed to police public space.

"So that is something they cannot allow."

Sexual harassment is such a problem in Egypt that the Government appointed a female military officer to a new role aimed at reducing it.

But the country's continuing crackdown on political freedoms remains unacknowledged and, according to human rights groups, is getting worse.

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