Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance photographer also known as “Shawkan,” was detained on August 14, 2013. The journalist was covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi during the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba’a Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo.
After Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013, the military-supported government detained dozens of local and international journalists. Most have been freed.
Shawkan has contributed to Demotix, the U.K.-based citizen journalism site and photo agency, and the digital media company Corbis. After he was detained, Demotix sent a letter to the Egyptian government confirming that Shawkan was covering clashes for the agency at the time of his arrest.
Shawkan is charged with weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder, the same allegations levied against hundreds of protesters detained during the clashes. The journalist has denied all of the charges.
In August 2015, two years after he was detained, one of Shawkan’s lawyers told CPJ that Egyptian authorities should release the journalist since he had been in prison for two years without a trial. The Egyptian criminal code stipulates a two-year maximum for individuals jailed without a trial. In September 2015, Shawkan’s case was finally referred to court. But the trial has repeatedly been delayed.
“Photography is not just a hobby for me,” the journalist wrote in a letter in March 2015 to mark his 600th day behind bars. “It is an actual way of life. It’s not just how you hold a camera and snap a picture. It’s the way that you see life and everything around you. … My passion is photography, but I am paying the price for my passion with my life. Without it, a part of me is missing.”
CPJ and other groups have worked for more than two years to obtain Shawkan’s release, repeatedly calling on Egyptian authorities to grant the journalist his freedom. In 2015, CPJ partnered with the film production company Egyptian See Media to produce a documentary, “Under Threat,” which featured interviews with Shawkan’s father, mother, and brother. During a mission to Egypt in February that year, CPJ raised Shawkan’s case with the minister of transitional justice, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, and the National Council for Human Rights. Shawkan was featured in the Press Uncuffed campaign, which raises awareness about imprisoned journalists, led by University of Maryland journalism students in partnership with CPJ.
Shawkan is being held in Tora Prison in Cairo. His health has deteriorated in prison and he has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, his lawyer said.
“Tora prison is like a cemetery,” Shawkan wrote in March 2015. “It is a place where dreams come to die.”