Photojournalist Mahmoud Abdul Shakour (Shawkan) spent around five years in jail with no crime except “his love for the camera” and carrying it around to capture what was going on. For five years Shawkan was not able to carry his camera nor view the sky.
Shawkan is a 29-year-old photojournalist, he graduated from “Akhbar al Youm Academy”, journalism department, in 2010. He spent a year and a half of apprenticeship in “Al Ahram Al Massai” in Alexandria while he was still a student. He also worked as a freelance photojournalist with a number of foreign newspapers.
Cairo Criminal Court is determined to issue its verdict, under the presidency of Counselor “Hassan Farid”, Saturday, in a case with 739 defendants, including The Spiritual Guide of Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al Shater, and others.
Photojournalist Mahmoud Abdul Shakour abo Zeid “Shawkan” was arrested on the 14th of August 2013, while he was performing his journalistic work covering the dispersal operation of Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in. He was there according to the invitation of the Ministry of Interior to journalists, media and activists interested in following the dispersal operation.
Security forces arrested Shawkan and a number of Egyptian and foreign news photographers and journalists in the first hours of the dispersal operation. Shawkan was subjected to a number of violations while he was being arrested, as security forces have beaten him and confiscated all his equipment. He was arrested along with many others in Cairo Stadium, later the foreign photographers and journalists were released.
During his arrest, Shawkan submitted to the security forces all documents and testimonies to prove that he did not participate in Rabaa sit-in, and that he was in the field as a journalist. He also submitted a letter from Demotix photo agency, which was sent to the Egyptian authorities asserting that Shawkan was covering incidents for the agency and was not a participant in the sit-in. However, the Egyptian authorities insisted on ignoring this fact and decided to extend his pretrial detention.
In September 2013, the public prosecutor ordered to renew the retention of Shawkan in the case known as “iThe dispersal of Rabaa sit-in incidents”, no. 15899 of 2013, administrative I, Madinet Nassr. The prosecution pressed charges against Shawkan of “murder, gathering and joining Muslim Brotherhood group”.
Shawkan was deprived of fair trial, as his lawyer was prevented from photocopying the case papers, reading it, or even attending with him during some investigation sessions, not to mention not informing the lawyer of the dates of investigation sessions or changing the dates suddenly without notification. His pretrial detention was renewed automatically without trial for two years, which is a blatant violation of article 143 of The Code of Criminal Procedures.
After the first pretrial detention renewal, Shawkan suffered a wave of renewals, which continued until the writing of these words.
In conjunction with the sentencing session, Reporters without Borders (RSF) called for the immediate release of Shawkan. “A young journalist is threatened to be hanged for covering the massacre that took place in 2013”, said Christoph Deloire.
RSF said that Shawkan is facing accusations that may lead to the death penalty just for performing his job as a journalist, and called for his acquittal.
RSF said that convicting Shawkan and sentencing him to prison will be an obnoxious assault against freedom of the press, but issuing a death sentence against him will be an insult that will stain Al Sisi’s regime forever.
Shawkan suffered a number of health problems as a result of the inhuman circumstances of his imprisonment, and the lack of adequate health care. Shawkan suffers from hepatitis, acute anemia, low blood sugar, and his family has filed at least 17 petitions to the public prosecutor for his release for health reasons, but to no avail.
The photojournalist is threatened to face a sentence that could reach the death penalty, as he is accused of murder, attempted murder and joining a banned group “The Muslim Brotherhood”.
Shawkan received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2016 for his collective journalistic works and the continuation of his detention, along with three other journalists from India, Turkey and El Salvador.
On the 23rd of April, UNESCO announced that Shawkan was chosen as the laureate of the 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, provided that he receives it in May.
The Egyptian authorities criticized UNESCO for awarding Shawkan the prize while he is on trial for “criminal charges”, considering this to an act that “undermines the State of law and politicizing the international organization”.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its “deep regret” for granting Shawkan the UNESCO prize, considering this step to be the result of efforts of non-governmental organizations, supervised by Qatar, which is known for its support to the Muslim Brotherhood group.
Excerpts from Shawkan’s letters:
A black hole
After more than 850 days in a black hole without justice, I am lost in oblivion. Just because I was performing my job as a news photographer. I am imprisoned now without even knowing the reason. I am totally desperate. This is my new personality. But I will resist for you only, all those who supported me and stood by my side. You make me feel that I am not alone, I get my strength and energy from you, without you I will not be able to get over my suffering.
I am a journalist punished in prison
Who am I? I am Shawkan.. Mahmoud Abo Zeid, a freelance photojournalist, I am being punished in prison because I wanted to do my documentation job. And because I am a freelance photojournalist, no one heard of what happened and is happening to me. This is the price of working as a freelance photographer, I pay it from my youth, but I am sure that salvation will come, and I am optimistic regarding the future.
I cannot see the sky
In another letter from Shawkan, he describes life inside “Tora” prison: I cannot see the sky clearly without the iron net and bars. I am not able to see the sky except through a tiny hole in the ceiling, iron is prevailing in this place, the heavy doors are made of iron, the room is dark, dark like a grave
My dreams are colorless
I miss the camera, I miss the reason for my suffering and my calamity, I miss holding it in my hands to see life through it, I miss leaving it in the evening with a promise to meet it the next morning, I miss smelling it in the morning before my coffee, yes – unfortunately – I miss my work, which cost me and still costs me days of my youth. “
“Do you know what hurts more than four walls and disease? It is the dreams, my dreams in my sleep are colorless except for the white which I started to hate, and with no people other than fellow members of cell no. 16-d Torah reception prison, without any excitement or adventure, but the parts related to the spread of disease in my body and facing death, permeating the oppression and helplessness into my dreams is killing me. Here I am concerned with my present, which I live only, without a past, without a future, yes my dreams have no future. “
In his letter, Shawkan also appealed to the head of the Journalists Syndicate Yahya Qalash: “To the head of the Journalists Syndicate Yehya Qalash, can you take away the rest of my soul from this tomb?” To the Egyptian journalists, Shawkan said: “Can you save me? “
Prison in its various forms
The way I see journalism in Egypt, it became a crime by all standards, as journalists are punished in various forms and penalties, either sentenced to life or half-life imprisonment or prolonged pretrial detention, just because you belong to the press profession.
(Only in Egypt) a journalist is a part of the political conflict, I am only a photojournalist, and I cover the demonstrations while standing by the security forces, it was not the first time I stood by the security forces, to secure my life and equipment, and suddenly I and foreign journalists were arrested, then suddenly my colleagues were released on the same day, and I became a criminal.
I found myself a member of the Brotherhood, and now some people think that I belong to this organization and some still believe it, I went to cover the sit-in, so now I am from the Brotherhood! I did not know how Sisi controlled the country because of my presence among the four walls of prison, but the news I hear from my weekly family visits are sad, and also what happens here to me is that I have been confined to prison, treated as a criminal and not as a journalist.” He said.
ISIS and the practices of the authorities:
I wonder, what is the difference between what ISIS does to the press, and the authorities’ practices of killing, arresting, beating, looting, stealing cameras, detaining, threatening and fabricating charges against journalists? I am also wondering, the world turned upside down to declare a war on terror, and did not condemn what the Egyptian authorities are doing here, the setback in human rights, the arrests and murder. “
Where are the Arab leaders?
“Where are the world leaders who demonstrated in Paris in protest against the murder of journalists and cartoonists, insisting on the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press? I live in a rotten dungeon under harsh conditions that cannot be tolerated by animals, I was accused of false accusations and I was mixed with other demonstrators, I call on all the media professionals and journalists all over the world to support me, stand by me and put pressure on the Egyptian government to release me.
Help me .. God help you
“On my way to 550 days in “detention”, the prison has no color, taste, shape, smell, no logic, no trial, no law, mere charges on papers that were leveled against me without investigation, time passes, my youth is lost between four walls “.
“Without logic, we were 900 defendants. Without logic, we became 300 defendants. Without logic, my colleague, Al-Jazeera correspondent, Abdullah Shami, who was with me in the same case, and in the same cell, was released and without logic, I am still imprisoned, while he is free. Not because of justice and rule of law or because of an impartial investigation, but because there is a major media institution stands beside him. “
On October 10, 2016, “Journalists Against Torture” screened a video about Shawkan, showing part of the suffering experienced by the photojournalist in Tora prison. On the occasion of his 29th birthday at that time.
The video displays excerpts from poetry written by Shawkan in prison.
I miss the camera .. I miss the camera
I miss it even though it is the cause of my suffering and my calamity
Life in prison is an endless nightmare, a black hole I’m stuck in
I simply ask you now that you know me
Do not turn your backs on me, please.
I’m a photojournalist, not a criminal