The trial of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a photojournalist also known as Shawkan, is due to start tomorrow after being postponed in December. He is being tried along with more than 700 other defendants, many of them alleged members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Shawkan has spent more than 900 days in prison awaiting trial – one of the longest periods of pre-trial detention in Egypt’s history and a flagrant violation of its constitution and laws. He was arrested on 14 August 2013 while covering demonstrations in Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square for the Demotix and Corbis agencies.
The trial that is due to begin two days later, on 8 February, is a retrial of the so-called “Rabaa operations room” case, in which many defendants, including journalists, were given life sentences in April 2015. Egypt’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, ordered the retrial in December.
RSF is supporting six of the 14 journalists in this case, but not the other eight because it has not been clearly established that they were arrested in connection with their journalistic work.
“In Egypt, any form of criticism of the regime is systematically suppressed by the authorities and journalists are paying a very high price,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk
“We demand the acquittal of these journalists, who have been imprisoned and subjected to political mass trials on very serious charges. Their detention and trials constitute flagrant violations of all national and international standards.”
Charged with murder, attempted murder and membership of a banned group (the Muslim Brotherhood), Shawkan is facing a possible death sentence or life imprisonment. He is suffering from mental exhaustion and hepatitis, which has been getting steadily worse because of the appalling conditions in prison and the lack of access to appropriate treatment.
The journalists in the “Rabaa operations room” case are accused of publishing false news, inciting chaos and violence and being part of an alleged “operations room” that organized attacks on the government during the August 2013 demonstrations in Rabaa Adawiya Square in support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. They are being tried together with Muslim Brotherhood officials.
The massacre that occurred in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in August 2013 was one of the bloodiest episodes in Egypt’s history. Three journalists were killed in the course of doing their job while the security forces dispersed the pro-Morsi demonstrators.
Ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Egypt is now one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists, after China, Eritrea and Iran. At least 23 journalists are currently being held unjustly by the Egyptian authorities.