Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a photojournalist known as “Shawkan” who has been held illegally pending trial for more than two years and whose trial is finally due to begin tomorrow in Cairo.
Zeid was arrested on 14 August 2013 while providing the Demotix and Corbis agencies with coverage of clashes in Cairo’s Rabiaa Al-Awadiya Square between the security forces and ousted President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters. Held in disturbing conditions in Cairo’s Tora prison ever since his arrest, he is suffering from Hepatitis C and his condition is worsening because he has not had access to appropriate treatment. “Shawkan’s detention is illegal under both Egyptian and international law,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “By keeping him in pre-trial detention and now trying him along with hundreds of other defendants, the authorities are demonstrating their lack of interest in respecting journalistic work. We call for his immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges.” The charges against Zeid include murder, attempted murder and membership of an banned group (the Muslim Brotherhood). He is being subjected to a mass trial before a Cairo criminal court along with more than 700 other defendants, most of them Muslim Brotherhood members, and is facing a possible death sentence or life imprisonment. His lawyer, Karim Abdelrady, told RSF that, despite the fact that there is no evidence against him, Zeid has been held without trial for more than two years in violation of article 143 of Egypt’s code of criminal procedure. “I call on the judicial system to respect the law regardless of the political context or the political affiliation of the defendants,” Abdelrady added. “Shawkan must be freed at once.” Egyptian law imposes a two-year limit on pre-trial detention, a limit exceeded by many months in Shawkan’s case. In a letter written in Tora prison in 1 December, Shawkan thanked all those who have supported him but expressed despair about his chances of obtaining justice. His case, which has received a great deal of attention on social networks and from international NGOs, has become emblematic of the sharp decline in respect for freedom of information and human rights in Egypt. 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 20 journalists are currently being held unjustly by the Egyptian authorities.