A “Twitter Storm” campaign was launched Monday in solidarity with detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zied, also known as Shawkan, who has been in prison for 600 days without trial.
Supporters and advocates of freedom of press and expression and human rights, including the international Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), heavily used the hashtag #FreeShawkan simultaneously in order to “send him a message that he is not forgotten”, activists said.
Shawkan is detained in Tora Prison with other political detainees, despite others accused in the same case having been released pending trial, according to his brother Mohamed. “We have submitted countless requests to the authorities to release Shawkan with no response whatsoever,” Mohamed told Daily News Egypt Monday.
“Shawkan’s case is irritating because it seems that nothing can be done about it and no specific law defines what is going on with him. Complaints are ignored by authorities, the Press Syndicate’s hands are tied down, and every time voices rise to support him, those efforts seem to fade,” Mohamed stated.
Meanwhile, previously-detained former Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy had launched an NGO called the “Fahmy Foundation”, registered in Vancouver, Canada, aimed at helping other journalists out, after his own jailing for 411 days.
“This is the longest period of detention on temporary basis,” Fahmy told Daily News Egypt. “The problem of Shawkan, like many journalists nowadays, is that he is facing blanket accusations, not related to journalism itself, not a publishing crime. His charges are criminal,” he added.
Fahmy added that he is taking Shawkan’s case very seriously by raising awareness through an integrated social media campaign, in coordination with at least 12 international agencies working on the matter, such as CPJ.
“This is one of the main cases we are advocating for. We are organising a wide protest in Canada for him on 3 May, which is the World Press Freedom Day. Shakwan’s brother and myself will be able to speak to the crowds from Egypt,” Fahmy said.
“It is very easy to act as a victim and complain about your situation, but I will not do it; I use the spotlight I have on my own show trial to highlight the plight of others because it has become a global trend to clampdown on journalists, throw them in prison, using the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ as an excuse to limit freedom of expression,” Fahmy added.
Cairo Criminal Court renews Shawkan’s detention every 45 days. He is allowed a visit every week and his brother last saw him on 2 April. Shawkan also suffers some health issues.
According to Fahmy who met former and current head of the Press Syndicate, they both stated that if anybody has a chance of being released, it is most likely Shawkan, because he has not faced trial yet.
The Freedom for Shawkan Facebook page has launched a campaign for “urgent global action” earlier this month to demand his “immediate and unconditional release”.
The campaign advocated for individuals to send appeals to the Egyptian authorities, represented in the Public Prosecution and the Minister of Justice, before 1 April.
The campaign’s event page cited Shawkan’s rapidly deteriorating health conditions, stating that he “currently suffers from anaemia and depression”.
Amnesty International released a statement on 27 February calling for urgent action concerning the case of detained photojournalist Shawkan, referring to him as “a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his journalistic work”.
In a letter of distress sent out of prison early February, Shawkan described his imprisonment as “without logic, without trial, and without law. Just charges on paper”.
“If I had no choice but to drop my Egyptian nationality for my freedom I would have done so,” Shawkan disclosed in his letter, adding that he belongs neither to a political conflict nor to any group or political faction.
“I do not know the reason for staying in jail all this time…Time is passing, and a life is being wasted between four walls,” he added.
Following the release of the letter from prison, Shawkan was interrogated on 9 February. According to Amnesty, the interrogation was conducted by an assistant to the Minister of Interior, without the presence of his lawyer. He was asked whether he wrote the letter or not, and how he managed to get it out of the prison and post it online.
Arrested on 14 August, 2013, while covering the forced dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi, Shawkan faces several charges. These include attempted murder, possession of weapons and ammunition, threatening public peace, disrupting the constitution, and sabotaging public and private property.
CPJ ranked Egypt third among the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2013 and Reporters Without Borders named it one of the five worst countries for jailing journalists in 2014.