RSF launches campaign for Shawkan amid spate of journalist arrests
Courtesy: Courtesy: Ayman Aref

An online campaign in solidarity with detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan, was launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday, amid a recent spate of journalist arrests.

The start of the campaign coincided with the Cairo Criminal Court’s decision to postpone a session in the Rabea sit-in dispersal case, in which Shawkan is one of the 739 defendants, until April 14, according to lawyer Karim Abdel Rady. The photojournalist has been held in illegal pretrial detention since he was arrested in August 2013, while covering the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in by security forces, which killed hundreds.

The Paris-based organization called on people to share pictures of themselves mimicking the action of taking a photo with the hashtag #MyPicForShawkan on social media, mirroring an image of Shawkan during a court appearance. A number of journalists and photojournalists have already contributed to the campaign.

“We have decided to launch this solidarity campaign on social networks because of the gravity of the situation,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said on the organization’s website. He added that the organization hopes that, if the campaign manages to mobilize enough supporters, “the Egyptian government will not be able to ignore our appeal.”

Egypt has been criticized for detaining and imprisoning journalists, and a source from RSF, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated that 32 people are currently in custody in relation to journalism work. Most recently, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on the arrest of blogger and citizen journalist Mohamed Ibrahim, also known as Mohamed Oxygen.

According to Abdel Rady, Ibrahim’s whereabouts have been unknown since he was arrested from his house at dawn on Friday. The lawyer told Mada Masr that the blogger’s family has filed an official inquiry with the Egyptian Public Prosecution, and that he has sought information about Ibrahim’s location from several bodies, including the State Security Prosecution.

CPJ released a statement on Friday calling for Ibrahim’s immediate release, and that of Ahmed Abdel Gawad and Adel Eissa, two photojournalists who were arrested at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Cairo on Thursday night, and whose whereabouts were unknown at the time.

Gawad, who works for the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, and Eissa, who works for the privately owned Al-Mobtada website, were released on Friday night after being held and interrogated at the National Security Agency for over 24 hours.

Another photojournalist, Belal Wagdy, was arrested alongside his father on Friday afternoon. Wagdy’s uncle told Mada Masr that the family has filed inquires with the public prosecutor and Interior Ministry, but their location and the reason for their arrest remain unknown.

Wagdy works for the privately owned Masr al-Arabia website, which was raided by police several days earlier. The March 3 raid was carried out under the pretense of checking software licences, and Adel Sabry, the editor in chief, was arrested. He has since been issued a 15-day detention order pending investigations into charges of spreading false news, attempting to incite protests and promoting an ideology that aims to change the Constitution. The news website is facing a LE50,000 fine in relation to its coverage of Egypt’ presidential election.

Disappeared journalist Hossam al-Wakil, missing since his arrest on December 30, was brought before the prosecution in Alexandria on Sunday, and similarly handed a 15-day detention order, pending investigations into charges of joining an illegal group and disrupting public peace.

The targeting of journalism in Egypt has extended beyond journalist arrests and detention. On March 40, Al-Manassa news website joined the ranks of the 500 websites to which access is currently blocked on Egyptian ISPs, among them Masr al-Arabia.

In 2017, Egypt ranked 161 out of 180 states on RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The organization’s report described Egypt as “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists.”


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