Article 99 of the Egyptian constitution stipulates that any violation of personal freedom or the sanctity of the private life of citizens, or any other public rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by the constitution and the law, is a crime.
Human and women rights’ defenders used the principle to advocate for the rights of Somaya Obeid, a citizen who claimed to have been sexually harassed, by pushing forward a lawsuit against TV host Reham Saeed on libel charges.
On Sunday, 19 NGOs and two political parties, along with a number of human rights lawyers, declared they filed a report to the Prosecutor-General against the controversial TV host, stating that she stole pictures from the victim’s phone and published them without her consent.
Outraged reactions erupted over the past days, surpassing Saeed’s expectations, after she hosted an episode in which she displayed sensitive pictures of the alleged victim of assault and sexual harassment after having hosted her on her programme.
Al-Nahar TV channel suspended the programme after several companies withdrew their advertisement from Saeed’s “Sabaya Al-Kheir” show, and announced the TV host was under investigation, while she remains under severe media attack.
Videos that were considered harmful to the victim and public have been removed from online websites, read an official statement on the programme’s Facebook account.
Saeed, who is to appear before court on 28 November, defended her position before the show was cancelled by claiming that the “photos had been sent to her”, and by arguing that she aimed at exposing “the other side of the story”.
Her latest reaction to the situation was a post on Twitter in which she “prayed she would overcome such injustice done to her”.
“Riham Saeed must face trial” continued to be a trending hash-tag and topic on social media. A Facebook page under that title posted online surveys asking whether people were in favour of suspending her show or not. Opinions were equally divided.
According to Nevine Ebeid, head of the Women’s Bureau of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), which supported the case against Saeed, the case caused public controversy.
“I believe we need to work more on general policies protecting women in the public sphere. This was not a professional mistake or just an invasion of privacy,” Ebeid told Daily News Egypt on Monday.
Ebeid explained that reinforcing such policies by the state and concerned organisations is the way to have a more constructive coverage of violence against women in all its forms.
Sexual harassment in the media
The ‘I Saw Harassment’ initiative said in its report that this was not the first incident of its kind by Saeed, referring to an episode aired last February where she hosted an alleged victim of group sexual assault.
Saeed accused the victim of “immorality” and displayed her personal pictures, claiming that she was not raped but consented to sexual relations.
Hala Mostafa, a women rights’ activist and a coordinator at the ‘I Saw Harassment’ initiative, said the local media’s coverage of sexual harassment is problematic in general. For Mostafa, the media does not care about such cases.
“Sexual harassment of women has become a media topic related to seasons, such as Eid celebrations, to the extent that it has become an inseparable theme from other practices of the occasion,” Mostafa explained in comments to Daily News Egypt on Monday.
During Eid and other public holidays, ‘I Saw Harassment’ issues regular reports on sexual harassment incidents, making the issue more visible in the media.
“The second situation where a case would get media attention would be ‘scandalous’ incidents,” Mostafa said. She referred to the case of a woman who was severely harassed in Tahrir Square during the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in June 2014.
As for how the media tackles and portrays victims of sexual assault, Mostafa said this occurs either through “denial or going off-topic”, without serving the case justice or objectively discussing its circumstances.
“Sexual harassment is a crime that affects us all as a society. It should be covered properly, all year long, not with indifference, or in the manner Saeed did. I strongly believe she should face strict punishment,” Mostafa concluded.
Meanwhile, despite an increase of libel cases against local TV hosts such as Ahmed Moussa, Mona Iraqi, for similar ethical cases, and despite even issued imprisonment verdicts on libel charges, none of them have actually been sanctioned.