Justice Delayed for Photographer Shawkan

In a court hearing in Cairo, Egypt, earlier today, the trial of the photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (“Shawkan”) and the 738 other defendants in the “Rabaa dispersal” case was adjourned once again, this time until November 1. This means he will spend his fourth consecutive birthday in jail; he turns 29 on October 10.

A similar reason to one given by the court in the past was given today: its judges are examining video evidence. Also, one defendant who has cancer was released today after confirming his home address.

The photo above, of Shawkan in court, is from today. Anyone can see that the waiting is wearying. The trial is trial enough for Shawkan, who is a photojournalist who was arrested in a general roundup of a protest in August 2013. He was a credentialed reporter covering the story of the protest and the crackdown and was arrested in the general chaos of the roundup. He should have been released by the Egyptian authorities within days when they realized what they had done, and his name should not be leading the litany of names of reporters who were arrested for doing their job in recent years.

But more than three years later, Shawkan still sits in prison, sometimes in solitary confinement, and he awaits each new, now monthly, delay in the delivery of any news, any change in status, any justice.
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A New Delay for Shawkan

The second hearing in the trial of the photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (“Shawkan”) was delayed until August 9 due to the “involuntary absence” of Shawkan and the other 738 defendants.

Shawkan’s lawyer, Karim Abdelrady, wrote in a social media post, “The Security Directorate addressed the court to announce that the defendants were not able to be transferred from prison to the courtroom, due to security reasons which it did not specify.”
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‘Taking pictures isn’t a crime’

The second hearing in the trial of the 739 defendants facing charges related to the “Rabaa sit-in” in Egypt, a trial that includes the photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (“Shawkan”) will be held in a few hours on Tuesday, June 28, tomorrow.

Today it was announced that the National Press Club in Washington, DC, will honor Shawkan with one of this year’s two 2016 John Aubuchon Press Freedom awards. NPC President Thomas Burr said, “Shawkan’s case exemplifies the draconian way Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the press. Egypt is one of the world’s top jailers of news professionals, and the situation there is not improving.”

Because there are so many defendants, the trial is being conducted in a special building constructed for mass trials. It is outside Tora Prison near Cairo.

For two years, Shawkan was held without knowing what the charges against him are; in March, he and his lawyers finally learned that he faces nine charges that range from “joining a criminal gang” to “murder.” From the moment he was arrested on August 14, 2013, till March of this year, he did not know that he faces execution if he is convicted. Charged with murder, Mahmoud Abu Zeid is in a fight for his life. For taking photos.

He has been in jail for almost three years now.
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‘I’m in prison because I was doing my job’

Mahmoud Abou Zeid, the Egyptian photographer known as Shawkan, had an opportunity to speak on his own behalf in court today. He is the individual in white holding a microphone and addressing the panel of judges in the above photo. Shawkan’s case was postponed, yet again, this time until May 31.

“I’m in prison because I was doing my job,” Shawkan told the court. Today was the first time that Shawkan was able to address the court. Shawkan was arrested more than 1000 days ago while covering a protest—the Rabaa sit-in—that was a part of Egypt’s portion of demonstrations during the vast Arab Spring movement. He was arrested in a round-up of hundreds of people, and as a result, he is one of more than 700 co-defendants awaiting the start of his trial.

President al-Sisi’s government (and its jurisprudential system) has made it clear that it considers that job, journalism, to be a criminal enterprise. Several dozen are in jail in that nation right now; to the best of my knowledge, Shawkan has been held the longest: 1011 days today.

In the video below the fold, Shawkan speaks with the judges. At one point, he gestures toward the television and news cameras as if to say, “I should be with them covering hearings like this.”
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Not Abandoned: #FreeShawkan

August 14, 2013, was 994 days ago. On that date, Mahmoud Abu Zeid was arrested in Egypt. He is a photojournalist who was arrested while being a photographer. Four times since December of last year, his first court hearing has been postponed; the next attempt at a hearing will come on May 10.

Under Egyptian law, there is a two-year cap on pre-trial detention; 994 days is longer than two years.

You may very well have seen some of his work in recent years, as his photographs have appeared in Time magazine, in periodicals throughout Europe, and they have been distributed by Corbis, a major syndicate. (One photo is reprinted below the fold.) Mahmoud, who publishes under the name “Shawkan,” photographed everyday life in Egypt as well as breaking news stories like the protests in Tahrir Square and the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Today is World Press Freedom Day, an annual commemoration established by the United Nations in December 1993. It celebrates the vital importance of a free press around the world, of the importance of the freedom of expression. What I write here is not important, but the fact that I can hit the “Publish” button in a few moments and send this into the world, that fact is.
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A New Delay for Shawkan Zeid

UPDATE, February 6, 2016: For a second time, the Egyptian court hearing for Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the photojournalist known as “Shawkan,” has been postponed, this time until March 26. The court cited the same reason it gave for the first postponement in December: that it does not have the space to accommodate the hearing. Because he was arrested in a widespread government crackdown, which was known as the “Rabaa Dispersal,” Shawkan has been included with 737 other individuals. All face similar charges of offenses against public order and national security, violence, murder, attacking security forces and civilians, engaging in armed conflicts, and destroying public facilities.

Multiple sources are reporting today that Shawkan has been moved to a “disciplinary cell,” in other words, solitary confinement. His social media accounts describe a tiny cell, a daily slice of bread, a bucket, no blanket. There is a disgusting irony in placing him in a small cell for any length of time, whether one hour or until March 26, when the reason for the two delays has been lack of space.
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A Farce in Egypt

The judge “bellowed” the verdict against the three journalists today, according to reports. He announced that the three were found guilty and sentenced them to three years in jail. Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste already spent more than 400 days in prison in Egypt after being arrested for “spreading false news” while working for al-Jazeera English.

The three have already been convicted, retried, acquitted, retried again. Greste, an Australian, was deported last year.

Judge Hassan Farid declared today that the court had determined that the defendants are not journalists as they are not members of Egypt’s “Journalists Syndicate,” nor had they registered with a national agency that grants foreign reporters permits to work in the country. Thus, since they are not officially journalists, they were working against the government. They had been convicted in a first trial in 2014, sentenced to seven years in prison each, retried, acquitted, retried again, and convicted again today. Another retrial is being worked on but the earliest it can start is 2016.
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