Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan)
Shawkan is a journalist and photographer who often depicts daily cultural life and produces street portraits. He is a contributor to publications such as Time Magazine, Die Zeit, BILD, Media Group, and online photo agency, Demotix. Various human rights organizations, such as Index on Censorship, Amnesty International, Open Democracy, IFEX, and Global Voices, have also utilized his images. Shawkan has covered political protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. His agency says of his coverage of the political protests that it was “completely impartial with a simple objective – to tell the news from the perspective of a local photographer who had lived in Egypt all his life.” Shawkan has been awaiting trial in pre-trial detention since his arrest in August 2013. His trial, which has been postponed repeatedly, was most recently postponed to August 19, 2017. He will stand trial on charges of weapon possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder alongside more than 700 defendants.
Shawkan was arrested on August 14, 2013 while covering the dispersal of the Rab’a Al Adweya sit-in as a photojournalist. He was arrested along with two other journalists: Louis Jammes, a French photographer and Mike Giglio, a US reporter working for the Daily Beast. The two other journalists were released because of their foreign citizenship and passports. However, Shawkan, who is an Egyptian citizen, was consequently beaten and detained. All of his personal belongings, such as his camera and cellphone, were taken from him. Since then he has been in prison in pre-trial detention without charge, and his detention has exceeded the detention time allowed under Egyptian law.
Shawkan’s lawyer has said that the photojournalist will stand trial on unjust charges of weapon possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder.
After more than two years in prison, Shawkan’s first hearing as part of a mass trial was on December 12 and was adjourned to give the court time to prepare a larger room to accommodate all of the more than 700 defendants, around 20 of whom are children. The session was postponed to February 6, 2016, however, before this session could begin, Shawkan’s trial was postponed to March 26 for the same reason of not having enough space for the defendants.
Shawkan’s trial alongside more than 700 other defendants harms the chances of the court recognizing that he was arrested in the course of his work as a journalist. Courts have previously handed down life sentences and the death penalty in mass trials involving fewer defendants than those in Shawkan’s case.
Shawkan has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, and his lawyer reports that his health is deteriorating in Cairo’s Tora Prison, where he is being held. Human Rights Watch has identified several prisoners, some of whom had heptatitis C, who have died because of the lack of proper health care within the Egyptian prison system, which is ill-equipped to care for people with illnesses.