The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International and a host of other rights organizations launched a global campaign on Tuesday in solidarity with imprisoned Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid (known as Shawkan). The campaign coincides with the presentation of the CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards, of which Shawkan is an honoree.
The photojournalist has been imprisoned for more than three years pending trial on charges including murder, terrorism and rioting. He may face the death penalty in light of these accusations, all of which he has denied, and which are described by Amnesty International as trumped-up and politicized.
For his work and continued detention the CPJ has honored Shawkan with its International Press Freedom Award, presented in New York City on Tuesday. He is one of four journalists who received the prize, with other recipients coming from India, Turkey and El Salvador.
According to the CPJ: “These four brave journalists have risked their freedom – and their lives – to report to their societies and the global community about critical news events.” It added that the “CPJ is proud to honor these journalists who, in the face of repression and violence, continue to bring us vital news.”
The #FreeShawkan campaign, launched the same day, aims to raise awareness of Shawkan’s case. He has been in prison for 1,196 days, which exceeds the legally permitted pretrial detention period of two years and there are concerns regarding his deteriorating health. Shawkan suffers from Hepatitis C, and has claimed that he is denied access to the necessary medical care while in Tora Prison.
After more than two years behind bars, Shawkan’s case was referred to court in September 2015. His next court session is scheduled for December 10, alongside over 700 other defendants.
The photojournalist has remained in detention since August 14, 2013 when he was arrested while documenting security forces’ violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in. According to Human Rights Watch and other rights groups, the dispersal is reported to have resulted in the deaths of over 800 civilians.
The online campaign calls on social media users worldwide to post photos of themselves holding signs bearing the #FreeShawkan hashtag, along with #JournalismIsNotACrime and #IPFA (International Press Freedom Award).
Using the campaign’s primary hashtag, one Twitter user commented that Shawkan is a “Brilliant photojournalist and prisoner of conscience in Egypt.”
— Jack Shenker (@hackneylad) November 22, 2016
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy Tweeted: “A camera should not be cause for arrest.”
— The Tahrir Institute (@TimepDC) November 22, 2016
Amnesty International also participated in the campaign, posting one of Shawkan’s letters from Tora Prison in which he insists that he is “a journalist who has no affiliation but to his profession.” Amnesty International will be organizing a London exhibition of his photography on November 28.
The Facebook page Freedom for Shawkan has also called on people to engage with the latest #FreeShawkan campaign.
Amnesty International has circulated and issued a petition to Egypt’s Prosecutor General calling for his unconditional release, as has the CPJ which additionally requests that the “bogus” and “baseless allegations against him” be dropped.
Amnesty International’s petition cites a CNN interview with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi from September 28, 2015 in which Sisi claimed that in Egypt “freedom of the press is quite unprecedented, and no one in the press or working in the press is held back from holding their own views freely.”
Despite these claims, Reporters Without Borders has labeled Sisi as a “Predator of Press Freedoms,” and charged him with the “Sisification” of Egypt’s media. The Paris-based organization ranked Egypt 159 out of 180 countries in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
The CPJ has classified Egypt as being the world’s second worst jailer of journalists in 2015.
On Saturday, the president of the Journalists Syndicate along with two board members were each sentenced to two years in prison, and issued fines of LE10,000. They were charged with, and found guilty of harboring two fugitive journalists within the syndicate’s headquarters in Cairo. They will be appealing the sentence.