Mahmoud Abu Zeid was arrested while on assignment for the British photo agency Demotix in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on 14 August 2013, covering the use of force by the security forces to break up a demonstration by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
Now aged 29, he has been held ever since although he has not been convicted.
“Four years of constantly extended provisional detention is not an act of justice, it is an excessive political punishment that is typical of the oppressive climate for journalists and bloggers in Egypt" said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“Shawkan's only crime to have wanted to do his job as a news photographer. Four years in prison for trying to cover a protest is an unacceptable price. Shawkan has no place in prison. He must be freed unconditionally at once."
His treatment has been marked by irregularities right from the time of his arrest. Two foreign reporters who were arrested with him, US journalist Michael Giglio and French journalist Louis Jammes, were freed a few hours later with the apologies of the police. But Shawkan was immediately imprisoned.
Shawkan has been held in violation of article 143 of Egypt’s code of criminal procedure, which limits pre-trial detention to a maximum of two years. His trial did not start until March 2016.
He is being subjected to a mass trial with 738 other defendants, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been regarded as a terrorist organization in Egypt since December 2013. Despite the lack of any evidence against him, he is facing a possible death sentence.
In this highly sensitive case, some ten charges have been brought against him, including murder, attempted murder and membership of a banned organization (the Muslim Brotherhood). Now suffering from hepatitis C and anaemia, he is also in very poor psychological shape.
Egypt is experiencing a dramatic decline in the freedom available to civil society, media freedom is in the process of disappearing, dozens of news websites are blocked, and journalists are harassed and threatened, when not unjustly sentenced to long prison terms.
As a result, Egypt is now ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.