Photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid (popularly known as Shawkan) will remain in detention after a court hearing scheduled for Saturday was postponed until May 10.
The court delayed the hearing because one of Shawkan’s co-defendants, who is in police custody, was not present in for the trial, said Karim Abdel Rady, a lawyer with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who is representing Shawkan.
“It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior to transfer defendants to their court hearings,” Abdel Rady told Mada Masr.
Today’s session was also adjourned on the basis of the claim that evidence in the case is still being screened and evaluated by the judicial authorities, the lawyer added.
Along with 738 co-defendents in a mass trial, Shawkan faces the death penalty for charges including murder, belonging to a banned group (a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood), possessing firearms and bladed weapons, and vandalizing private and public property.
Shawkan, who was arrested on August 14, 2013 while photographing the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adawaya sit-in in Cairo, has been in detention for 984 days. In violation of both Egyptian and international human rights law, he was held for more than two years before a trial date was scheduled for December 12, 2015. It has since been repeatedly postponed.
“After having far exceeded the allotted period for a pre-trial detention, he just wants to be released. He knows he is being held past the legally stipulated limit for pre-trial detentions, and that’s why he no longer has faith in the justice system,” Abdel Rady said of his client. “Every session, we ask the judicial authorities to release Shawkan. Every time our request is denied.”
Rights group Amnesty International says the charges against him are “trumped up” and “without consideration for his individual criminal responsibility.” The group considers Shawkan to be a prisoner of conscience who has been imprisoned “solely for peacefully doing his work as a journalist,” and the petition campaign it launched demanding his unconditional release had garnered around 90,000 signatures by the end of 2015.
“Shawkan is paying the price for covering the forced dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in an objective and professional manner. That’s the reason the authorities want to link him to terrorism charges,” Adel Rady said. “They’re trying to portray him as a terrorist rather than a journalist. This is why his camera has not been presented as evidence in the case against him. This is also why there has been no real evidence presented against him, and is also why he is still being held past the legal limit for a pre-trial detention.”
“His only message is that his health is in poor condition and is further deteriorating,” the lawyer added. “Shawkan is suffering from [Hepatitis] Virus C, and is not receiving proper medication, does not have access to a doctor, nor is he being sent for treatment at the prison hospital.”
In an open letter from prison dated December 1, 2015, Shawkan thanked his supporters, but said he had become a person “full of hopelessness” and had lost faith in achieving justice through the court system. “Of course after more than 850 days in the black hole without fairness and justice, I am lost in limbo,” he wrote. “Just because I was doing my job as a photographer. I am in jail without even knowing why am I here?!”
Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt 159 out of 180 countries in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, describing the situation as “extremely worrying.” In December 2015, the group said his case is “emblematic of the sharp decline in respect for freedom of information and human rights in Egypt,” noting that at least 20 journalists were imprisoned in the country.
“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,” Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk said in a press statement. “We call for his immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges.”