Taming digital harassment
Minya Criminal Court last week sentenced a man to 15 years for cyber blackmailing a 16-year-old. The ruling came after the prosecution referred five people to the Criminal Court over charges that included sexual trafficking and blackmailing a minor in Gharbiya governorate with fabricated obscene photos.
In 2018 the anti-cyber and information technology crimes law was amended, allowing a blackmailer who hacks the private information of any person to be imprisoned for not less than two years and not more than five years instead of six months in jail and/or a fine that is not less than LE50,000 and not more than LE100,00.
The law was part of the government’s efforts to combat cybercrimes committed either on social media or other online platforms. However, recently, there have been several calls to intensify the penalties, especially following the suicide of a14-year-old in Sharqiya governorate after being blackmailed earlier this year.
However, the 2018 amendments are still seen as not enough to deter cyber blackmailing. According to Amal Abdel-Moneim, head of the ombudsman office in the National Council for Women (NCW), the current penalty stipulated in Law 175/2018 is insufficient to deter offenders of cyberbullying. “The law should be amended to 10 years imprisonment for anyone who reveals matters that violate a person’s honour or affects the lives of others and threatens them for their own selfish benefit,” Abdel-Moneim said.
She called for intensifying current penalties in order to ensure further deterrence and prevent tragedies. Though the council does not have recent figures regarding cyber blackmailing, the ombudsman office receives reports of extortion crimes that have recently increased, especially electronic extortion online. The Ministry of Interior, according to Abdel-Moneim, receives at least 300-500 police reports a month regarding cybercrimes.
Irresponsible youths misuse social media to defame others by publishing personal information and photos which causes harm to the victims and could push many to consider ending their lives, Abdel-Moneim said.
Abdel-Moneim noted that reports to the Interior Ministry on such crimes have increased especially after a law was passed in August 2020 which protects the identity of women who report sexual harassment. The law aimed at encouraging females to report cases of sexual violence, she explained, providing victims the automatic right to anonymity. It was issued following campaigning by hundreds of women on social media on sexual assault using the MeToo hashtag.
Nehad Abul-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), said that current penalties should be tougher for those who commit cyberbullying or abuse. She explained that the recent verdict issued by Minya Criminal Court, while serving as a deterrent, is not final. “It was issued by a first-degree court and the penalty is more than the stipulated verdict in the law, therefore it could be easily petitioned by the court of appeal or that of cassation,” Abul-Komsan said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.