Award-winning Egyptian photojournalist Shawkan due to be released after five years in jail
Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, is soon to be released from jail after five years in prison, a human rights lawyer said on Sunday.
Shawkan was arrested in 2013 as he covered a sit-in protest in Cairo's Rabaa Square, where more than 1,000 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi were massacred by Egyptian security forces.
His detention sparked outrage among human rights groups and NGOs who lobbied continuously for his release, saying he should never have been arrested for merely doing his job.
Egyptian authorities have started procedures to release the photojournalist, according to lawyer Karim Abdelrady, with Shawkan transferred to the Khalifa police station in Cairo on Sunday.
"This is a glimmer of hope and a rare piece of good news," said The New Arab's James Brownsell. "Shawkan should never have been locked up in the first place. Egypt has in recent years become a police state, and we hope Shawkan's freedom will herald the release of the thousands of political prisoners in Egypt's dungeons."
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Shawkan reportedly left prison on Saturday along with 200 or so other prisoners to start release procedures, an Egyptian media watchdog said.
Last year the Egyptian photojournalist was awarded the prestigious 2018 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize.
"The choice of Mahmoud Abu Zeid pays tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression," Maria Ressa, president of the jury for the Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, said at the time.
In an open letter to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, Shawkan wrote: "I am living in a tiny cell under harsh conditions that an animal wouldn't bear and am facing false accusations with no grounds of truth and mixed up with protesters who were arrested.
"I am a journalist not a criminal."
A crackdown by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime has muzzled free expression after the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013.
Since the deadly Rabaa massacre, Egyptian authorities have led a brutal crackdown on political dissidents, rounding up thousands and sentencing hundreds to life in prison, or death, in grossly unfair mass trials.
Human rights groups estimate that as many as 60,000 political prisoners languish in Egyptian jails, significantly more than under Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship.