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Egypt Sentences Lebanese Tourist to 8 Years in Prison for Facebook Video

An Egyptian court sentenced a Lebanese tourist to eight years in prison Saturday for posting a video tirade on her Facebook page that Egyptian authorities claimed had insulted the country and its leader.

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Megan Specia
, New York Times

An Egyptian court sentenced a Lebanese tourist to eight years in prison Saturday for posting a video tirade on her Facebook page that Egyptian authorities claimed had insulted the country and its leader.

State-run news agency Ahram reported that Mona el-Mazbouh was initially handed an 11-year sentence and a fine after she was convicted of “deliberately broadcasting false rumors which aim to undermine society and attack religions.” But her sentence was immediately reduced to eight years.

Under Egyptian law, “defaming and insulting the Egyptian people” is a crime.

In the May post on her Facebook page, which went viral, Mazbouh described being harassed by two men on the street of Cairo’s upscale Zamalek neighborhood and being ill-treated by a taxi driver. She calls Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi “unjust” and calls Egypt a “son of a bitch country,” according to Reuters, which reported on the video before it was removed.

“You deserve what Sissi is doing to you. I hope God sends you someone more oppressive than Sissi,” she said in the original clip. She also made derogatory comments about Egyptians during the profanity laced clip.

The case comes at a time when Egypt has struggled to bolster a flagging tourism industry and is attempting to draw outside investment, and critics say the case does nothing to help the country’s global image.

While Egyptian courts often hand down initial heavy sentences that are later reduced on appeal, human rights advocates say this is the latest in a series of overly severe judgments aimed at stamping out dissent and have called for the release of Mazbouh. She will be able to appeal the decision later this month, Ahram reported.

Mazbouh took the video down from her Facebook page, but not before it had widely spread on Egyptian social media. The backlash was swift. The clip was quickly copied from her page and still appears on other social networks. It angered some Egyptians on social media, who called for her arrest.

The day before being detained, she posted a second video on Facebook apologizing to Egyptians she had offended.

“I definitely didn’t mean to offend all Egyptians, and never meant to say anything about the country’s political affairs,” Mazbouh said in the video, where she is seen sniffling and wearing sunglasses. “I love all Egyptians and I love this country. That’s why I visited it more than once and I keep coming back.”

The following day, June 2, Mazbouh was arrested at Cairo airport as she prepared to board a plane out of the country, according to Ahram.

Critics of the decision said her sentencing is not only disproportionate for the alleged crime, but a bad public relations move for a country looking to boost its international image.

There have been other similar cases brought recently against women in Egypt.

Egyptian activist Amal Fathy was detained in May after she posted an expletive laden video to her Facebook page denouncing sexual harassment and the state of the country. She detailed harassment that she had experienced that same day and vowed to leave the country with her young son.

She and her son were detained after the video was posted. Months later, Fathy is still being held, awaiting trial on charges of inciting terrorism over the internet and spreading fake news.

Her husband, Mohamed Lotfy, is a prominent Egyptian human rights activist and launched a campaign for her release. Lotfy, in his campaign, wrote that his wife is being held at al-Qanater women’s prison north of Cairo,and her health is deteriorating.

“Her lawyers presented a report from her psychologist explaining that she suffers from chronic depression and the prison doctor made two reports confirming this and explaining that her health condition deteriorates as a result of her detention,” Lofty wrote. “She suffers from frequent panic attacks in prison and her recent paralysis seems to be caused by her psychological state.”

Before her arrest, she was a vocal critic of the government and its failure to protect women from widespread street harassment.

“It is a dark day when the Egyptian authorities are more concerned with silencing a woman who speaks out about sexual harassment than taking steps to address the issue,” Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaigns director at Amnesty International, said in a statement at the time of Fathy's arrest.

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