Press Releases

Egyptian Photojournalist Shawkan Released After Five Years in Arbitrary Detention

NEW YORK (March 5, 2019) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) celebrates yesterday’s release of award-winning photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, and calls on the Egyptian government to immediately remove the conditions restricting his freedom. Shawkan, who is one of the country’s best-known photojournalists, has been considered a political prisoner since his arrest in August 2013, and has suffered torture while in detention. He was conditionally released from prison after serving his sentence in the infamous Tora prison.

“Shawkan’s release from prison is an enormous relief, but the fact remains that the Egyptian repressive regime has robbed him of nearly six years of his life for purely political reasons. He should have not spent a single day in jail for being an inconvenient witness to the regime’s brutality toward the Egyptian people,” said Céline Assaf Boustani, HRF’s international legal associate. “El-Sisi is responsible for Egypt’s most severe crackdown on freedom of expression in modern history. His persecution of both local and foreign journalists is worsening ahead of the upcoming public referendum to expand his powers and keep the country under his control until 2034.”

Shawkan was arrested in August 2013, while he was covering the brutal repression of a sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa Square, organized by supporters of ousted ex-President Mohammed Morsi. He was kept in pre-trial detention for over two years, in violation of both Egyptian and international laws. In September 2015, he was officially charged as part of a mass trial, on trumped-up of “attempted murder” and “membership in a terrorist group.” Shawkan faced the death penalty in March 2018, but was instead convicted to five years in prison in September 2018, after having already served five years in Tora prison. He was kept behind bars for an additional six months in lieu of the fine that he could not afford to pay.

Shawkan was conditionally released with restrictions on his freedom that will only be lifted if his sentence is overturned on appeal. The restrictions include police observation for the next five years, a daily requirement to report to a police station, and a ban on managing his financial assets and property.

In February 2016, HRF represented Shawkan before the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, requesting that it launch an investigation into his case. A few months later, the U.N. ruled in favor of HRF’s individual complaint and declared Shawkan’s arrest and deprivation of liberty arbitrary under international law.

Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

For press inquiries, please contact media@hrf.org.