An Egyptian TikToker living in Saudi Arabia was arrested this week by capital police in Riyadh, who claimed she made sexually suggestive comments to another woman in a live video and accused her of negatively affecting public morality.
Saudi Arabian security officials took to Twitter Monday to announce the arrest of Tala Safwan, who has nearly five million followers on TikTok and 866,000 subscribers on YouTube. Although they did not name Safwan in their post, they included a blurred-out screenshot of her TikTok livestream with another Saudi resident, a woman. A recording of the live video spread widely in Saudi Arabia in recent days, prompting fury as well as the hashtag “Tala offends society,” according to English language media outlet Egyptian Streets.
“The Riyadh police arrested a resident who appeared in a broadcast talking to another with sexual content and suggestion that would prejudice public morals,” the kingdom’s Interior Ministry tweeted, according to an automated translation of their post.
Egyptian Streets pointed out that many users on Twitter celebrated Safwan’s arrest. LGBT sexual activity, as well as the gender expression of trans individuals, is criminalized in Saudi Arabia and can be punished with the death penalty. The Human Dignity Trust, an organization that works to challenge laws that discriminate against LGBT people worldwide, explains that same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under Sharia law and that Saudi Arabia operates with “an uncodified criminal code based upon Sharia principles.”
In the video, which is in Arabic, Safwan tells another woman to come to her house in Riyadh, Egyptian Streets stated. The TikToker reportedly said that “everyone will be asleep” at home and that “no one will hear her scream.” The BBC reports that Safwan responded to the online indignation and said that she’d been misunderstood, claiming that the clip had been taken out of context to cause a scandal.
Gizmodo reached out to TikTok for comment on Safwan’s arrest but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
It’s unclear what consequences Safwan will face or whether she will be able to fight the allegations in court. Human Dignity Trust states that there is substantial evidence that the laws criminalizing LGBT activity have been enforced over the years. However, the organization found that it is difficult to provide accurate estimates on the number of arrests, prosecutions, and executions of LGBT and trans individuals because of the secretive nature of Saudi Arabian law enforcement.
In 2020, the kingdom arrested and deported a Yemeni blogger for “promoting homosexuality online” and “imitating women.” The blogger, Mohamad al-Bokari, had posted a video advocating for equal rights for LGBT individuals. Meanwhile, in 2018, police arrested young men who they claim appeared in a “gay wedding scene” on video, although it is not known whether they were prosecuted.