Saudi-based Egyptian TikToker Tala Safwan was arrested in Riyadh on 26 June after uproar spread over a video that was described as sexually suggestive and having “lesbian undertones”.
The video, which was initially broadcast live on her TikTok account, features her asking another young woman to visit her in her house in Riyadh, saying that “everyone will be asleep” and “no one will hear her scream”.
Police announced that they had apprehended a Riyadh resident “who appeared in a broadcast talking to another woman with sexual content and suggestiveness that could have a negative impact on public morality.”
While they did not mention Safwan’s name in the announcement, a clip of the video in question was included, with the face of Safwan’s friend blurred.
The context of the exchange in the video is unknown, and Safwan denies that she intended for there to be any sexual subtext.
Social media users from across Saudi Arabia expressed fury over the content of the video in question, with hashtags such as #تالا_تسيء_للمجتمع (Tala offends society) circulating, as well as tweets celebrating her arrest.
The case bears familiarity to multiple cases in Egypt where young women with large followings on TikTok – such as Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm – were arrested and until today face prison sentences with accusations of “violating family values” and charges of human trafficking. While there was outrage over the fate of these young women, there were still some who applauded the arrests that some activists have described as ‘draconian’.
On her TikTok account, which is followed by five million people, Safwan posts humorous and quirky content, mostly addressed to teenagers.