“Shawkan” in very poor health after two years of provisional detention

Reporters Without Borders calls for Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid’s immediate release and the withdrawal of all the charges against him at his next court appearance on 17 August, three days after he will have completed his second year in provisional detention.

Known by the pseudonym of “Shawkan”, Mahmoud Abu Zeid, 28, has been held in Cairo’s Tora prison ever since his arrest on 14 August 2013 while providing the Demotix and Corbix photo agencies with coverage of clashes between the security forces and deposed President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters in Rabiaa Al-Awadiya Square.

This young photojournalist’s already fragile health has worsened steadily because of the conditions to which he has been exposed in prison for the past two years,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said.

He has been subjected to one of the longest period’s of provisional detention in Egypt’s history, having spent more than 700 days in prison without any formal charges being brought against him. This intolerable situation must end at once. He must be freed without more ado. We want no less from the hearing on 17 August.

Exhausted physically and psychologically by his two years in detention, Zeid has likened his current situation to “a black hole in which all things resemble each other and everything is dark.”

In a recent message written in his cell, he said: “Journalism has become a crime in today’s Egypt. A journalist can be sentenced to life imprisonment or can spend years in pre-trial detention. Egypt is the only country where journalists are regarded as political actors.

Zeid has hepatitis, which is getting steadily worse because of the appalling prison conditions, the lack of access to medical care and the mistreatment to which he has been subjected.

Other journalists are accused of supporting a “terrorist organization” and disseminating false news – spurious charges used by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime to gag journalists and to suppress an open public debate in which a broad range of views may be expressed.

The retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists that began in February was postponed for the tenth time a few days ago. The three being tried are Egyptians Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were freed provisionally in February, and Peter Greste, an Australian who was deported back to his country of origin.

With at least 15 journalists currently detained just for doing their job, Egypt is the world’s fourth biggest prison for media personnel (after China, Eritrea and Iran). It is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.