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The journalists facing prison in Egypt

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as 'Shawkan', is facing imprisonment for documenting Egyptian security forces crushing a mass sit-in in Cairo, for British photo agency Demotix.

He will be tried on 26 March in Cairo. The charges against him are unclear, and his lawyers have been denied access to the list of charges he faces - making preparing a defense case impossible.

Call for Shakwan's freedom

Shawkan was arrested in the morning of 14 August 2013 near Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in the Cairo district of Nasr City.  He had been on the scene taking photos as the security forces began to violently disperse a sit-in staged by thousands of supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.

'It was like a Hollywood movie. It felt like we were in the middle of a war. There were bullets, tear gas, fire, police, soldiers and tanks everywhere'

Up to 1,000 people died in the ensuing violence across Egypt, which saw security forces use tear gas, shotguns and live ammunition to disperse the mostly peaceful protesters.

Call for Shawkan's freedom on Twitter

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');Hi @AlsisiOfficial, journalism is not a crime! #Freeshawkan

Shawkan has been held since August 2013 in pre-trial detention – more than is legally allowed under Egypt’s own laws.  In that time he has been beaten, denied access to his lawyer and ongoing medical care that he needs and faced other abuses.

He – along with 738 others – have been charged with 'belonging to a banned group' (in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood), 'murder', 'vandalising private and public property' and 'possessing firearms and ‘cold steel’, without establishing individual criminal responsibility for the offences.

Build bigger cages

The trial was due to start in December 2015 – however, it was delayed.  This is because court officials realised that the hundreds of defendants charged in the case - would not fit into the courtroom.

As a result, the court announced it was postponing the trial until 6 February, apparently to allow time for construction works to enlarge the defendants' cages.  It would almost be funny – and it is certainly farcical – if it weren’t also profoundly disturbing. They have now decided to hold the trial in Wadi Al-Natrun prison (100 km north of Cairo) which contravenes international law and undermines Shawkan’s and other defendants’ presumption of innocence. 

The rise of mass trials in Egypt has seen courts struggle to accommodate the hundreds routinely charged in each case, but more importantly perhaps, it makes it more difficult to ensure the right to a fair trial for each of the defendants.  Defendants are charged with identical charges without consideration for each individual criminal responsibility. 

Shawkan’s lawyers have repeatedly been denied access to key documents relating to the case including the list of charges.  This has undermined their ability to prepare Shawkan’s defence.

Support Shawkan, support free speech tweet him and tell him you've called for his release:

Tweet Hi, @ShawkanZeid I'm standing beside you and calling for your release! #Freeshawkan

Five years on from the Revolution

Shawkan is just one of thousands of people who remain behind bars in Egypt.  When the '25 January Revolution' erupted in 2011, Egyptian security forces, including riot police, police snipers and plain-clothed state security officers, as well as 'thugs' working for supporters of ruler Hosni Mubarak, responded violently.  At least 840 protestors were killed and more than 6,000 injured in 18 days.  And by issuing Urgent Actions we were able to tell this story and bear witness to the people who were at the receiving end of this violence.  I remember there were a few days when the cases were being updated so quickly we’d hardly issued one when another one came in, so quickly was the situation on the ground changing.

Five years on peaceful activists, critics of the government and many other remain in jail.  Torture and other ill-treatment is rife. Hundreds have been sentenced to death and tens of thousands put behind bars for protesting or for their alleged links to the political opposition.

Tell Egypt to free Mahmoud Abu Zeid, Tweet the Minister of Foreign Affairs:

Tweet Hi, @MfaEgypt !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');, journalism is not a crime! #Freeshawkan


End the crackdown

In the last few weeks alone we have issued three new Urgent Action cases on the continued crackdown on freedom of expression in Egypt – activists sentenced to prison for unfounded charges including 'disrupting traffic'; human rights defender Dr Ahmed Abdullah threatened and harassed and three activists arrested ahead of the fifth anniversary of the '25 January Revolution', accused of 'being in possession of leaflets calling for the overthrow of the regime'. 

I’ve often seen Urgent Action cases as a lens through which we can see the human rights abuses happening in a particular country – and in particular the people they are happening to – and a way not just of taking action for them and hoping to stop the abuse, but also a way of bearing witness to the abuses, standing up and letting them and the authorities know that they are not forgotten, we know what is happening to them. 

While Shawkan awaits the start of his trial, we urge the Egyptian authorities to drop all charges against him and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience.  Shawkan knows that we are campaigning for his release and sent us this message last December:

'…You keep me feeling that I’m not alone.  You have become my power and my energy and without all of you I cannot go through this.  I want to send my deep love and respect and my appreciation of all what you are doing for me.  I feel so lucky to have such kind people like you.  And indeed it’s my honour to count you as my friends.

Keep shouting, Journalism is not a crime.'

Please help us to keep shouting ahead of his – and the 738 others’ - trial tomorrow.  

Support Shawkan, Tweet and Text

Tell Shawkan that you have called for his release: Tweet Hi, @ShawkanZeid I'm standing beside you and calling for your release! #Freeshawkan

Tell President al-Sisi to free Mahmoud Abu Zeid: Tweet Hi @AlsisiOfficial, journalism is not a crime! #Freeshawkan

Tell Egypt to free Mahmoud Abu Zeid: Tweet Hi, @MfaEgypt , journalism is not a crime! #Freeshawkan

Text FREE2 followed by your full name to 70505.  We will show the authorities you are supporting Shawkan but never give your number.

Text terms: Over 14s only please. Texts will cost your standard next rate, no more than 10p. By giving us your number you agree to future communication from us by SMS. To unsubscribe, text STOP AMNESTY to 70505 at any time. Read our terms and conditions in full

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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