Egyptian photojournalist sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison

A Cairo criminal court on July 18, 2016, sentenced Egyptian freelance photojournalist Belal Darder Mohamed to 15 years in prison in absentia on charges of participating in an unlicensed protest and membership in a terrorist organization, according to press reports. The charges were in connection with his work documenting a December 2014 protest by students loyal to deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, the reports said.

Police dispersed the demonstration and questioned the photojournalist as he left the university, taking down his name and address, but did not take him into custody, Mohamed told the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mohamed contributed to several news agencies and media outlets including Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, China’s Xinhua news agency, and The Associated Press. Anadolu published his photos from the December 2014 protest, Mohamed said.

The photojournalist told CPJ that he learned of his conviction from his lawyer, who told him he was among seven people sentenced in absentia. He told CPJ that he fled Egypt on July 21 before authorities could add his name to the list of people banned from travel.

Mohamed said he flew first to Hong Kong, where he stayed for six days before continuing to Malaysia, where he said he hopes to apply for political asylum. He said he would not appeal the court’s verdict because to do so would require him to present himself to the authorities, and he does not trust Egyptian courts to treat his case fairly — in part informed by the experience of his friend, fellow photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, a recipient of CPJ’s 2016 International Press Freedom Award.