Egypt to release Lebanese tourist jailed for complaining of sexual harassment

Mona-el-Mazboh
Mona El-Mazboh

A Lebanese woman who was sentenced to eight years in prison after complaining of sexual harassment in Egypt on social media, has had her term cut short and is due to be released, Reuters has reported.

In July, a Cairo court found Mona El-Mazboh guilty of spreading false rumoursharmful to society, attacking religion and public indecency, after she published a ten minute video on Facebook in which she described the sexual harassment she had experienced during her holiday.

On appeal, her sentence was reduced to one year and then suspended. El-Mazboh’s lawyer, Emad Kamal, said that she would be able to leave Egypt “within days” after paying 30,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,670) in fines.

In her video, the 24-year-old tourist complained of being harassed by taxi drivers and young men in the street, and criticised the government for failing to protect women in public. Her testimony drew anger from Egyptians on social media, who called for her arrest, despite El-Mazboh releasing a subsequent video clarifying that she did not mean to insult the country as a whole.

Last month, Lebanese citizens launched a hashtag on Twitter calling for El-Mazboh’s to be freed by Egyptian authorities. The Arabic hashtag, “Return Muna to us”, also advocated for a boycott on all travel to the North African state until her release.

Egypt has seen a dramatic crackdown on freedom of speech and an increase in regulatory legislation since the ousting of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, justified by the government as necessary in preventing dissent.

Amnesty International has described the situation in Egypt as the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades, with the state systematically using arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence any criticism of the government. Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists have also been arrested and held without trial.

Harassment has also been identified as a persistent problem in Egypt; a 2017 report from the UN Women and Promundo found that some 60 per cent of women said they had been victims of some form of sexual harassment during their lifetimes. Three-quarters of men and 84 per cent of women polled said that women who “dress provocatively deserve to be harassed”.

Last month, Egypt’s highest religious authority, Al-Azhar University, issued a statement denouncing sexual abuse against women and calling for anti-harassment laws to be used to punish perpetrators.

“The holy Al-Azhar asserts that criminalising harassment must be absolute regardless of the context or conditions,” the statement read. “Blaming harassment on a woman’s clothing or behaviour is a wrong way of thinking. Harassment is an attack on a woman’s privacy as well as her dignity and freedom. This appalling phenomenon also leads to the loss of the sense of security,” it said.