Detained photographer has no place in political mass trial
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) again calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately free Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photojournalist also known as Shawkan, who is currently one of the defendants in a mass trial in Cairo with charges that include homicide.
Arrested in August 2013, the 29-year-old Shawkan has been held arbitrarily for the past three and a half years and is suffering from hepatitis C.
The court agreed on 7 February that he should be examined by a forensic doctor, but the results of this examination were not sent to the court in time for it to be able to decide on his proposed release at the latest hearing on 25 February.
“We urge the Egyptian judicial authorities to free Shawkan without delay on medical grounds,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “His health has declined dramatically since August 2013 and he has no place in this political mass trial. He committed no crime and, at the time of his arrest, was just doing his job as a reporter covering the dispersal of a demonstration.”
During the 25 February hearing, most of the defendants repeatedly chanted “Murderer, murderer” at the sight of one of the witnesses, an army officer blamed for the use of extreme violence to disperse demonstrations at that time. The defence lawyers also protested, objecting to Judge Hassan Farid’s refusal to view videos of the violence in court.
For protesting in court, the judge sentenced all but a dozen of the defendants to a year’s forced labour on a charge of contempt of court. Shawkan was among those exempted. The defence lawyers were ordered to appear before a disciplinary court, while the trial was adjourned until 21 March.
A ruling was expected on 25 February on the appeal by three leaders of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate but the decision was postponed until 25 March. They are appealing against the two-year jail sentences they received on 19 November on a charge of harbouring two journalists wanted by the police.
In Egypt, the net continues to close on journalists who do not toe the official line and the government is expected to tighten its grip under a law regulating the media that was adopted in late December.
It provides for the creation of a “Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media” that will be run by people appointed by President Sisi. The council will be in charge of supervising the media and ensuring that they do not endanger national security.
Parliament is currently debating a second media law on how journalism is practiced, its relationship with national security, and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.
Ranked 159th out of 180 counties in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt is one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists with at least 26 currently detained.