By: Geoffrey Mock, Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA
Mark your calendars: On June 30, Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (popularly known as “Shawkan”) will be brought to court after nearly five years of detention, and Amnesty International believes he may finally receive a verdict. Recent Egyptian court cases raise concern, but there’s also a feeling that international pressure can help him finally receive the freedom he deserves.
Shawkan is a recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and the 2018 UNESCO Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize for his photojournalism in the face of threats and legal action. He is also a prisoner of conscience and was one of Amnesty International’s cases in the 2016 global Write for Rights campaign.
Shawkan was arrested on August 14, 2013, while taking photographs of the violent dispersal by the Egyptian security forces of the Rabaa al-Adaweya Square sit-in in Cairo where more than 700 people were killed. He has faced torture and other ill-treatment upon arrest and in detention and is now in a mass trial with 738 other defendants.
Already, more than 235,000 people have signed Amnesty International’s petitions worldwide.
The Egyptian authorities’ position
After the first session of his trial on 26 March 2016, Shawkan was faced with nine specific trumped-up charges directed against him. They are: “joining a criminal gang”, “murder”, “attempted murder”, “participating in a gathering with the purpose of intimidation and creating terror and exposing people’s life to danger”, “obstructing public utilities”, “overthrowing the regime through the use of force and violence, a show of strength and the threat of violence”, “resisting the authorities”, “obstructing the implementation of laws, surveillance” and “disturbing public peace”. He has denied the charges against him. If convicted, he risks the death penalty.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has commented publicly on Egypt’s allegedly open environment for journalists.
In September 2014, a few months after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office he told the UN General Assembly in New York that: “Our aim is to build a ‘New Egypt’ […] A State that respects the rights and freedoms … That State should also respect and enforce the rule of law, guarantee freedom of speech and religion, and work towards growth, prosperity and a promising future for all Egyptians.” Despite these claims, Egypt was second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
How you can help?
1. Post social media messages (see suggested messages below) calling for Shawkan’s release.
2. Change your profile picture to Shawkan (see photos below).
3. Take a picture of yourself holding up a Free Shawkan sign, and post it on social media with the hashtag #FreeShawkan.
4. Carry out a creative public stunt calling for Shawkan’s release, and post a picture of it on social media using the hashtags and targets in the suggested messages below.
Social Media Messages:
Attach, where possible, a photograph or video (see above) to accompany these social media messages:
.@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!
.@MfaEgypt Respect #Egypt’s obligations under international law and #FreeShawkan. Journalism is NOT a crime!
On 22/11, #Egypt photojournalist @ShawkanZeid is receiving the @pressfreedom award. He should be celebrating, not behind bars! #FreeShawkan
Amnesty International has collected more than 235,000 signatures worldwide calling for @ShawkanZeid’s release! #Egypt #FreeShawkan NOW!
Videos to share:
Short (54 seconds): https://youtu.be/URpTyCvQgXA
Long (5 mins 27 seconds): https://youtu.be/zoeJCQVQo6E
Contact Egyptian authorities:
• Urging the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against Mahmoud Abu Zeid and release him immediately and unconditionally as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.
• Calling on them to provide Mahmoud Abu Zeid with any medical treatment he may require.
• Urging them to release, immediately, other journalists detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Appeal target: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Address: Office of the President, Al Ittihadia Palace Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt
Salutation: Your Excellency
Appeal target: The Hon. Yasser Reda
Address: Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt 521 International Ct NW, Washington, DC 20008
Salutation: Your Excellency