Award-winning Egyptian journalist 'Shawkan' could face death penalty

Award-winning Egyptian journalist 'Shawkan' could face death penalty
Mohamed Abu Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan, could face the death penalty in Egypt for taking pictures of a military crackdown on protesters five years ago, reports suggest.
2 min read
01 July, 2018
Shawkan was awarded the UNESCO press freedom prize earlier this year [Getty]

An Egyptian photojournalist who was awarded the prestigious 2018 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize could face the death penalty for taking pictures during the country’s military crackdown five years ago.

Mohamed Abu Zeid, popularly known as Shawkan, is expected to receive the verdict on Saturday, according to Al Jazeera.

The young photographer has been behind bars since August 2013 after he was arrested while covering a pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairo's Rabaa Square, where more than a thousand protesters were killed by Egyptian security forces

Shawkan and more than 700 other people face many charges, which include belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, possessing firearms and murder.

His trial has been postponed repeatedly in what his family describe as "the government's attempt to lose him in the system" and his health has deteriorated significantly.

The arrest and continued detention of Shawkan have been widely condemned by local and international human rights organisations, which have called for his immediate release.

Rights groups say a crackdown by the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has muzzled freedom of expression after the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013.

"The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has qualified his arrest and detention as arbitrary and contrary to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," UNESCO said in April.

Maria Ressa, President of the Jury for the Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize said "the choice of Mahmoud Abu Zeid pays tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”

The Egyptian government, which has failed to justify Shawkan's four-year detention without trial, has lashed out at the UN agency for the award, saying it constitutes "disregard of the rule of law".

A foreign ministry statement added the prize was driven by organisations and countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it a "terrorist group".

"Perhaps you have been following UNESCO, which intends to award a person who is accused of a felony, and which is supported by suspicious organisations and countries known for their support of terrorism," parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal told the state news agency earlier this year.