“Taking pictures isn’t a crime”
These of the words of Mahmoud Abu Zeid aka Shawkan – a young Egyptian photojournalist who has been falsely imprisoned in Egypt for the last three years.
Shawkan was covering a sit-in protest in Cairo on 14th August 2013 when police, security forces and tasks swept through and chaos ensued. As a talented photojournalist who would capture both Egypt’s beauty and daily life alongside current events, Shawkan photographed the scene where he stood as bullets and tear gas went flying.
Unfortunately for Shawkan though, once the Egyptian police found out he was a journalist – unlike foreign journalists – he was arrested. Police tied his hands with plastic cables which began to cut into his skin. This was then followed a beating. After being left in a hot vehicle he was later imprisoned where he has remained for the last three years without charge – in contravention of Egyptian law. Shawkan is one of hundreds arrested on that very day across Egypt. Yet even more tragic; over a thousand people across the country lost their lives.
With trumped up charges of “murder” and “joining a criminal gang” Shawkan faces the death penalty if he is convicted. As he lies in prison, both his emotional and physical wellbeing have deteriorated. Despite having Hepatitis C, he has not received adequate medication and his health is suffering.
Capturing the beauty and reality of Egypt
On Monday 28th November I was delighted to attend an Amnesty International exhibition of Shawkan’s work. His stunning photos capture hope, passion and vitality, whilst also engaging with the oppressive regime that rules over Egypt. Freedom of conscience and expression are vital human rights which we must all fight towards, whether via a camera lens, a keyboard, a pen; whatever it may be. In Shawkan’s case, when he was arrested he was simply doing his job.
Write for Rights – fighting for freedom
You can help help Shawkan’s case by getting involved in the #FreeShawkan campaign and putting pressure on the Egyptian authorities via letters, tweets and emails. Amnesty International has continued to lead on the campaign calling for Shawkan’s immediate release.
Most recently, Shawkan’s case has also been included in a group of 13 case studies in Amnesty’s current Write for Rights campaign which addresses a range of priority cases. The campaign calls on citizens worldwide to send cards with messages of solidarity for those who have been falsely and unfairly imprisoned and mistreated and to put pressure on authorities to address these cases fairly in the context of each individual, for example calling on governments to offer medical treatment, visiting rights and/or to release the prisoner.
Please send a solidarity card to Shawkan and an appeal letter or email to the Egyptian authorities – it really does make a difference! Shawkan has expressed how the #FreeShawkan campaign and his supporters have given him crucial hope.
Visit the Amnesty International website to:
- Sign up for Write for Rights
- Download the case sheet for Shawkan
- Download the sample letter for Shawkan
- Sign the online petition for Shawkan, in addition to writing
- Take action on the other cases
- Let Amnesty know if you wrote
You can also download a copy of the Write for Rights campaign booklet for full details of all the cases. This booklet is highly recommended as it gives a great compact guide to getting involved with full instructions on how to send both messages of solidarity and appeals. Background information, sample messages and safety guidelines are all provided.
Journalism is not a crime! Write for rights and call on the Egyptian authorities to #FreeShawkan!
Images: Mahmoud Abu Zeid (c) – all images photographed at the Amnesty International Shawkan photo exhibition (London, 28/11/2016)