Egypt should release Shawkan, photographer detained for two years

New York, August 13, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Egyptian authorities to release freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, from prison immediately and drop the baseless allegations against him. By the time of his hearing on Monday, Shawkan will have exceeded the two-year legal limit on pretrial detention, according to his lawyer who spoke to CPJ.

“If prosecutors had any evidence to back up their bogus allegations against Shawkan, they could have brought him to trial long ago,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said from Washington. “We call on authorities to put an end to this staggering injustice and set Mahmoud Abou Zeid free immediately.”

Shawkan was arrested on August 14, 2013, while covering the dispersal by security forces of the Raba’a Al-Adawiya sit-in protest in Cairo, which left hundreds dead.

Ahmed Abdelnabi, one of Shawkan’s lawyers, told CPJ today that Egyptian authorities should release Shawkan since he has been in prison for two years without a trial. The criminal code stipulates a two-year maximum for individuals jailed without a trial.

Abdelnabi said Shawkan’s case file includes a list of charges under which he is being investigated, including weapons possession, attempted murder, and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. His file does not contain any evidence.

It is unclear whether Shawkan’s case is related to a document released to the media by the General Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday. The document said that the “armed Raba’a sit-in case” had been referred to trial, but did not contain a case number or a list of defendants. Lawyers and prosecutors have previously referred to Shawkan’s case by that same name. When Shawkan’s lawyers inquired at the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday, they were told that his case had not been referred to trial, and that Monday’s hearing regards renewal of his pretrial detention.

In letters and statements to relatives, Shawkan has reported being beaten and describes the poor conditions in Cairo’s Tora Prison, where he shares a cell with 12 other detainees. According to his lawyer and family, the journalist’s health has severely deteriorated in prison.

Shawkan has contributed to the U.K.-based citizen journalism site and photo agency Demotix and the digital media company Corbis. After his detention, Demotix sent a letter to Egyptian authorities confirming that Shawkan was covering the dispersal for the agency, the photographer’s brother, Mohamed Abou Zeid, told CPJ at the time.

According to CPJ research, at least 22 journalists were behind bars for their reporting in Egypt on August 12, 2015. A census conducted by CPJ on June 1 found that 18 journalists were in prison. Seven other journalists have been arrested since then, and three have been released, CPJ research shows. Most of the journalists jailed in Egypt are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Shawkan is also featured in CPJ’s Press Uncuffed campaign, which raises awareness about imprisoned journalists.

  • For more on Egypt, watch “Under Threat,” a documentary film by CPJ and See Media that highlights the perils of journalism in Egypt.