Shawkan: Egyptian photojournalist finally free

Shawkan: Egyptian photojournalist finally free

Subscribing to Reporters Sans Frontiers, or Reporters Without Borders for anglophones, brings heavy emails. Since 2019, RSF has already informed its followers that six journalists, including one citizen journalist, have been killed on duty.

But yesterday (4th March 2019), RSF passed good news through its newsletter as 32-year-old Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, was freed by Egyptian authorities after five-and-a- half years in prison.

Shawkan was captured with two other journalists whilst reporting on the Rabaa massacre in Cario on 14th August 2013. He was working for a London-based photo agency, Demotix, one month after a military coup toppled Mohamed Morsi from office.

Two camps of protesters began sit-in protests in the al-Nahda Square and Rabaa al-Adawiya Square until they were violently disposed of by the new president Abdel Fattah el-Sis; an event that Amnesty International described as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history“.

Human Rights Watch recorded at least 1,000 people died during the government dispersal but the Muslim Brotherhood claims nearly 2,600 people were killed at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque sit-in alone.

Shawkan was arrested and put on mass trial with 739 other defendants from the protests. That September, 75 of those defendants received the death penalty. By November 2015, Shawkan had survived “pre-trial detention” for two years and was soon formally charged with six offences. The international human rights community feared that the young photographer faced the death penalty but was given five years imprisonment for doing his duty as a journalist.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, The Rory Peck Trust, RSF, Amnesty, and many notable human rights organisations worked to free Shawkan from prison using the hashtag #freeShakwan to build awareness.

He is free now from Egypt’s Tora prison, used mainly to house political prisoners. But although Shawkan is free, the endless threat to journalism continues. By the end of 2015, Egypt was surpassed as the country that detains the most journalists, by China.

The emails will continue to pour from RSF, CPJ, and Amnesty as more people risk their lives to bring light into the darkness. Journalism is not safe anymore; which means it has never been more important.