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Egypt: Freedom for photojournalist Shawkan

    Monday, March 20, 2017 - 14:54

    “It was like a Hollywood movie. It felt like we were in the middle of a war. There were bullets, tear gas, fire, police, soldiers and tanks everywhere.” 

    Shawkan in a letter from prison published by Amnesty International

    Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as “Shawkan”, faces an unfair trial and possible death sentence for doing his job. He has already spent more than three and a half years in arbitrary detention. He never should have been arrested in the first place. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

    Shawkan was arrested over four years agp on August 14, 2013, for photographing the violent dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in by thousands of supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, in Cairo. Hundreds of people died in the ensuing violence, which saw security forces use tear gas, shotguns and live ammunition to disperse the mostly peaceful protesters. 

    Shawkan has been unlawfully held beyond the two-year maximum pre-trial detention for those facing charges that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty, as set out in Egypt’s Code of Criminal Procedures. His ongoing detention is illegal under Egypt’s own national law.

    Although doctors at Tora prison stated In December 2016 that Shawkan is in good health, there are concerns that he suffers from Hepatitis C. His lawyer’s request to have him examined by the Forensic Medical Authority was approved in late February, and the report finally delivered to the court in early May. His court hearings have repeatedly been delayed some 35 times and the next one is scheduled for August 19. Prisoners with serious medical conditions are sometimes released on health grounds. The 29-year-old photojournalist is a defendant in a mass trial along with 738 others.

    Shawkan is not the only journalist to be targeted by the Egyptian authorities. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt had the third highest number of journalists behind bars in 2016, after Turkey and China.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: 

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


    1. Social media

    Twitter is an effective way to both profile the case and exert pressure on Egyptian authorities. Here are some sample tweets:

    .@AlsisiOfficial Journalism is NOT a crime. @ShawkanZeid is at risk of the death penalty in #Egypt for taking pictures! #FreeShawkan NOW

    .@MfaEgypt Respect #Egypt's obligations under international law and #FreeShawkan. Freedom of expression is a human right!

    .@ShawkanZeid has been behind Egyptian bars for 1290+ days for taking pictures! #Journalismisnotacrime #FreeShawkan

    2. Write letters to the authorities in Egypt

    Please write polite letters calling on the Egyptian authorities to:

    • Drop all charges against Shakwan and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;

    • Provide Shawkan with any medical attention he may require, pending his release.

    Write to:

    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

    Office of the President 

    Al Ittihadia Palace

    Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt


    Twitter: @AlsisiOfficial

    Salutation: Your Excellency

    Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights Laila Bahaa El Din

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

    Corniche al-Nil, Cairo Arab Republic of Egypt


    Twitter: @MfaEgypt

    His Excellency Moataz Mounir Moharram Zahran, Ambassador

    Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt

    454 Laurier Ave E

    Ottawa, ON K1N 6R3