Journalists demand release of Shawkan in open letter to President Sisi
Days after the latest postponement of Shawkan’s trial, the letter, signed by over 40 journalists and activists from around the world, demands the release of all other media professionals thrown in prison on press related charges
Al-Fakharany was arrested on August 25th 2013, and originally charged with “disturbing the peace” as part of a separate mass trial involving senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Those charges were later “substituted” by the Prosecutor General, while Fakharany remained in custody.
After a year-long trial, Al-Fakharany and a number of other media workers, including Rassd colleague Samhi Mustafa, were sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of “spreading chaos”, “spreading false information” and “forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood to defy the government”, in a plot that allegedly involved attacks on police stations and churches. One further journalist, Ibrahim al-Taher al-Sayed, was sentenced to death.
Egypt’s Court of Cassation last week ordered a retrial in Al-Fakharany’s case, accepting appeals from thirty-eight of the defendants.
The Muslim Brotherhood had been the dominant opposition voice in Egypt for decades before surging to power in the 2012 elections that followed the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Since the military overthrow of their victorious candidate, Mohammed Morsi, a year later, the Brotherhood has been banned and designated a terrorist organisation, and membership of the group is a charge routinely levelled at journalists in Egyptian courtrooms. Peter Greste, the Australian jailed for over a year for his work with Al Jazeera in Cairo, was accused of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, a charge he decried in court as “frankly preposterous”.
Egyptian journalists have found themselves in the crosshairs of the state’s security apparatus since the military coup, collateral damage in Sisi’s attempts to ward off an Islamist insurrection. The Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo claims that 32 media workers are currently incarcerated, and their own board member Khaled al-Balshy was recently released from custody pending investigation, having been charged with inciting unlicensed protests and “assaulting security forces”.
We, the undersigned journalists, are writing to ask for the release of our colleagues currently being held in Egyptian prisons. According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, at least 23 journalists are behind bars in Egypt because of their work.
Among them is photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as Shawkan, who has been detained since August 14th 2013.
Shawkan is a respected professional who has worked for the BBC, Time, Die Zeit and Bild. He was arrested on August 14th 2013 while on assignment for the photo agency Demotix, covering the Rabaa Square sit-in. He and his co-accused were held without charge for two years. When their imprisonment reached the two-year legal limit on pre-trial detention, the case was suddenly referred to trial, now due to begin February 2016. He is the only journalist in the mass case.
Shawkan has been diagnosed with hepatitis C and his health is deteriorating in prison. He has been denied medication and his weight is dropping every day. He is unlikely to survive to the start of the trial unless he is transferred to a hospital immediately. His lawyers have appealed to the Public Prosecutor for his release on medical grounds at least 17 times.
Abdullah el-Fakharany is a member of the Rassd News Network board. He was arrested on August 25th 2013 in what has become known as the ‘Journalists Case’. Fakharany is a talented journalist who had been invited to Germany by the German Foreign Office and who participated in several trainings by the German media organisation Deutsche Welle (the DW Academy). Fakharany furthermore has been accepted as a member of the International Press Institute. He was charged with spreading false information, though those charges were later substituted, and in April 2015 he and twelve others were sentenced to life in prison. His life sentence was reversed on December 3rd but he was not released pending a new trial. He is still at risk of a new life sentence.
Mr President, we are calling on you to release all journalists who are behind bars because of their work. Egypt’s own constitution guarantees freedom of the press, and prohibits prosecutions based on a journalist’s work. The arrest of these reporters has cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt. We strongly believe that upholding the rights of journalists and permitting the free flow of information is vital to bringing about greater understanding and serves the best interests of all Egyptians and the world.
Salma Abu Khalil, freelance journalist
Shahira Amin, independent journalist/former deputy head, Nile TV
Zahi Alawi, journalist
Indira Aryal, correspondent The Oslo Times
Frankie Asare-Donkoh, President, Ghanaian PEN Centre & Secretary-General, PEN Africa Network
Assed Baig, journalist
B. van Blokland, journalist
Jan Born, senior investigative journalist Eenvandaag Daily News&Current Affairs
M. Cerit, Hoofdredacteur Zaman Vandaag
Francesca Cicardi, Correspondent in Cairo for the Spanish News Agency EFE
Jim Clancy, journalist (formerly CNN) Atlanta, GA
Miriam Cosic, journalist, Australia
Koert Debeuf, political analyst, contributing editor The Daily Beast
Adars Dhakal, copy editor The Oslo Times
Lyse Doucet, BBC Chief International Correspondent, Canada
Steve Dow, contributing journalist, Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper and The Monthly
Khaled Elsalakawy, Rassd News Network
Nourhan Yahia Fahmy, Daily News Egypt
Inigo Gilmore, journalist and filmmaker
Ricard Gonzalez, correspondent of El Pais in Tunis
Rik Goverde, freelance correspondent North-Africa
Alain Gresh, journalist & editor of Le Monde Diplomatique
Orla Guerin, BBC Middle East Correspondent
Sabah Hamamou, freelance journalist
Mohammed Jamal Hilal, journalist
Diana Hodali, freelance journalist Germany
Wael Hussein, BBC newsgathering Cairo producer
Tahir Imran Mian, journalist
Amr Khalifa, political analyst/journalist
Patrick Kingsley, Guardian foreign correspondent
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now!
Sophie McNeill, video-journalist ABC Australia Middle East Bureau
Hatef Mokhtar, Editor-in-Chief The Oslo Times
Jonathan Moremi, freelance correspondent MENA/Germany
Bart Mos, journalist De Telegraaf
Mahmoud Mostafa, journalist
Serge Mouraret, freelance photographer
Aya Nader, journalist
Khaled Noureldin, Rassd News Network
Prabalta Rijal, chief international correspondent, The Oslo Times
Xandra Schutte, editor-in-chief De Groene Amsterdammer
Thomas Schwarz, journalist and author
Nuria Tesón, freelance journalist
Robert Trafford, freelance journalist
Daniel Wickham, op-ed writer for al-Araby al-Jadeed English and founder of the LSE Middle East Society