December 10, 2015
Prosecutor General Nabil Sadiq
Office of the Public Prosecutor
High Court of Justice
Al Esa’af Square
Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
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Dear Prosecutor General Nabil Sadiq,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, is writing to you because of our deep concern for photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, who is due to stand trial in Cairo Criminal Court on December 12, 2015.
Shawkan was arrested during the dispersal of a sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in Cairo on August 14, 2013, where he was present as a photographer. Since then, he has spent two and a half years in jail and, for nearly 24 months of that time, had no knowledge of the charges he faced, CPJ has found.
CPJ raised Shawkan’s case when we met with your predecessor, the Honorable Hisham Barakat, may he rest in peace, in Cairo in February 2015. He and other officials pledged to look into Shawkan’s detention. We ask you to do the same.
One of Shawkan’s lawyers told CPJ earlier this year that the photographer will stand trial on charges that include attempted murder and belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group–charges that Shawkan denies.
Shakwan has documented some of the most important moments in Egypt’s recent history in the past few years. Much of his photography portrays the country’s cultural and artistic life. In researching his case, CPJ found that he did not have a political affiliation and has never been convicted of a crime. He is guilty only of doing his job as a freelance photographer.
Although we are confident that a fair trial would find Shawkan innocent of all charges, we are concerned about some aspects of this case. Shawkan’s pre-trial detention exceeded the two-year legal limit in Egypt, and his lawyers told CPJ it was only last August that any court documents became available to them. Shawkan is being tried alongside more than 700 other defendants, which can only harm the chances of the court recognizing that he was arrested in the course of his work as a journalist. Courts have handed out sentences of life imprisonment and the death penalty in mass trials that involved fewer defendants than those included in Shawkan’s case, news reports show.
CPJ has heard from Egyptian officials that harsh sentences are often overturned on appeal. Last month, for instance, a court accepted the appeal for a retrial for a group of journalists sentenced to life in the Rabaa operations room case.
But this can hardly be considered justice, nor should it be the course that this young photographer and his family must hope for. No one can give Shawkan back the more than 850 days of his life spent in jail, where, according to his family, his health is deteriorating.
Shawkan’s lawyers told CPJ they will ask the court to release him from custody, as they have done before. We request that you support this request. Shawkan was at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in August 2013 not as a protester or a criminal, but as a journalist.
CPJ Advocacy Director
Ahmed el-Zend, Minister of Justice
Mohamed Fayek, President of the National Council for Human Rights
Yasser Reda, Ambassador of Egypt to Washington, D.C.