Is Mahmoud Abou Zeid alias Shawkan’s case now one of the many red lines that the government has imposed on the press in Egypt?
UNESCO’s announcement in April that it was awarding its prestigious Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Shawkan, who has been held since 2013, had big impact in Egypt and the rest of the world, and elicited an irritated reaction from the Egyptian authorities stressing the fact that he is accused of terrorism.
Since then, this already sensitive story has become very complicated for the Egyptian media to cover in any way other than to repeat the absurd charges that Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime has brought against the young photographer.
A few days after the UNESCO award announcement, three journalists with Egypt Independent, the English-language online version of the famous daily Al Masry Al Youm, resigned rather than yield to pressure from their editors to publish an editorial treating Shawkan as a terrorist and portraying the award as a political attack on Egypt.
“The fact that a young journalist is today still facing a death sentence just for wanting to cover what proved to be a massacre in 2013 constitutes one of the most appalling attacks imaginable on journalism,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“It is obvious that Shawkan should be acquitted outright. Giving him a prison sentence would be a shameful attack on press freedom. Sentencing him to death would be act of ignominy that would disgrace Sisi’s regime for ever.”
RSF #MypicforShawkan campaign censored in Egypt
The authorities have tried to filter information in order to limit media coverage of Shawkan. His family has been subjected to police surveillance and Shawkan himself has been interrogated by national security officials and searched after he managed to smuggle a poem out of prison in which he commented on his UNESCO prize.
The big campaign that RSF launched in support of Shawkan a few weeks ago has been picked up by many international media outlets including Arabic-language ones – except in Egypt, where the campaign has been unable to circulate on social networks or on independent online media outlets, to which access is blocked. They include MadaMasr, Masr al Arabiya (whose editor has since been arrested) and Menassa.
At least 33 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained in connection with their work in Egypt, which is ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.