Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan)
CPJ welcomes the release of Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, on March 4, 2019, after over five and a half years of arbitrary detention on anti-state charges. Despite walking out of jail, Shawkan is still not entirely free. For five years, the photojournalist will have to appear at a police station every day at 6 p.m., and will also be prohibited from managing his financial assets and properties. CPJ calls for the immediate removal of all conditions to his release.
Imagine if taking a photograph could cost you your freedom? For one courageous Egyptian, it has.
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist known as “Shawkan,” remembers August 14, 2013, as “the day that my life changed forever.” He and two international journalists were covering clashes during the dispersal of a protest against the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi at Raba’a Al-Adawiya, a square in Cairo. Amidst the chaos, the three were detained along with protesters who were rounded up and held by police in a Cairo stadium.
While his international colleagues were quickly released, Shawkan was not. Two years went by before he was charged, and in his fifth year of imprisonment, Egyptian authorities announced that they intended to seek the death penalty. All the while, Shawkan was confined to a small cell in Cairo’s Tora Prison, without access to sun or fresh air for days at a time. His family expressed grave concern for his health, and prison doctors urged that Shawkan be moved to a hospital; these requests were all denied.
On September 8, 2018, a court convicted Shawkan on charges of murder and membership of a terrorist group, and sentenced him to five years in prison. After having already spent five years behind bars, Shawkan is expected to be released within days. But, even now, Shawkan will not enjoy complete freedom: he will be released under “police observation” for five years, according to his brother and his lawyer, meaning he will have to appear at a police station every day at sunset. The journalist and his lawyer will appeal the verdict in Egypt’s court of cassation.
Shawkan has lost years of his life simply for doing his job. CPJ demands Shawkan’s immediate and unconditional release, the dropping of all charges against him, and the removal of any restriction on his release. We also condemn the efforts by Egyptian authorities to harass, intimidate, detain, or abuse the journalists who continue to work throughout the country.