Jailed Egyptian photojournalist Shawkan awarded UNESCO press freedom prize

Jailed Egyptian photojournalist Shawkan awarded UNESCO press freedom prize
2 min read
23 April, 2018
Photojournalist Egyptian Mahmoud Abu Zeid - popularly known as Shawkan - was arrested while covering the Rabaa massacre in August 2013.
Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 while covering the Rabaa massacre [Getty]
Jailed Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid - popularly known as Shawkan - has been awarded the prestigious 2018 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize.

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

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

Shawkan and more than 700 other people face many charges, which include belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, possessing firearms and murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

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.

Shawkan's lawyer Karim Abd el-Rady told Reuters he will have a hearing on Tuesday, although no verdict is expected.

Read more: Police state Egypt: The war on journalism

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 on Monday.

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 MENA on Monday.

The prize will be awarded on 2 May to mark World Press Freedom Day.