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Egypt calls for ban on phone game that urges 'players' to self-harm

Attorney general targets 'Blue Whale Challenge', which sets users deadly tasks, after several game-related deaths of youngsters
An Egyptian youth speaks on a mobile phone during a sunset in Cairo (Reuters)

A 12-year-old boy took his own life on Monday in order to "complete a task" set by a sinister, Russian-made mobile phone game that encourages self-harm, in the latest death in the country linked to the app. 

The boy, who has not been named, died in the city of Beheira after playing the "Blue Whale Challenge", placing further urgency on calls for a ban after several other game-related deaths.

The "game" sets tasks over 50 days and ultimately leads to a final challenge where users are compelled to take their own lives. It has already been banned in Tunisia.

Egypt's attorney-general, Nabil Sadek, called for the "game" to be banned on Saturday, and ordered telecoms watchdogs to prevent its access in the country.

"The game targets young people, incites them to take their lives and hurt their loved ones, which threatens both the safety of Egyptian families and national security," Sadek said on Saturday. 

His comments came a day after a 17-year-old student, named Shahinaz in reports, set fire to her family home in Sohag having reportedly received instructions from the game to do so.

Her mother and brother died in the fire, and another sibling was injured.

'It's like a deadly Pokemon-Go'

Salma Abdellatif, a social researcher based in Cairo, told MEE: “These games play a danger on the younger generation internationally, and we’re seeing its effects right now in Egypt. It's like a deadly Pokemon-Go.

"There need to be concrete steps to ban the ease with which young people can reach such dangerous games in the same way they make efforts with material which could encourage extremism.

"Those encouraging these deaths need to be punished. What they are doing is evil. They should face legal prosecution at the least," she added.

The game sparked condemnation after 18-year-old Khaled el-Fakharany, the son of former Egyptian MP Hamdy el-Fakharany, was found dead on 2 April.

Those encouraging these deaths need to be punished. What they are doing is evil. 

- Salma Abdellatif, social researcher

“[The game] was the primary reason behind my brother's suicide," Khaled's sister Abeer el-Fakharany wrote in a Facebook post.

“After searching through my brother’s possessions following the incident, I found some unintelligible writings, a blue whale sign, as well as songs and statements written down as if they were memorised.

“At first, I couldn’t believe that such a game existed, but after some research, I found the game available on the internet. My brother was a very devout and religiously dedicated. I really am in shock.”

A fatwa, or Islamic ruling, has been passed by Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, a government religious authority, forbidding "playing" the "Blue Whale Challenge".

“The users are asked to cut themselves with a sharp weapon such as a needle or a knife, and this act is religiously forbidden,” the fatwa reads.

Creator jailed in Russia

Phillipp Budeikin, one of the those behind the "Blue Whale Challenge", was sentenced to three years in Russia for inciting teenagers to take their own life in 2017.

Budeikin referred to those who had died as "biological waste" and stated he was "cleansing society".

Tasks are alleged to be assigned by an anonymous "master" and include watching horror films, waking up at uncommon hours and self-harming.  

The so-called game draws its name from whales that "beach" themselves.

*For assistance with any feelings of emotional distress or self-harm, you can call the Samaritans on the UK helpline number free of charge on 116 123

*If you are in the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)