Is foreign citizenship a ‘get out of jail free card’ in Egypt?
Mahmoud Abou Zaid, courtesy of the Freedom for Shawkan Facebook page

CAIRO: “If there is no good ahead for me without renouncing my Egyptian citizenship to be free, then I will.”

Egyptian freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zaid or “Shawkan,” who has been in renewed custody for over a year and a half, wrote Friday a letter from his prison that reads “My problem with my country is that I am an Egyptian-only journalist.”

Khaled el-Balshy, a Press Syndicate member, talked with The Cairo Post Saturday in this regard saying “Egyptians see foreign inmates released under a decree issued by their own state.” In late 2014, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi issued a decree allowing him to extradite non-Egyptian detainees to be tried or serve a sentence in their home country, if it would serve Egyptian national interests.

“I understand why Shawkan said so. All attempts in order to free him, including the syndicate’s submitted demands, failed,” said Balshy, adding that some journalists feel like they must resort to renouncing their citizenship.

Preceding the fourth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, Sisi announced a decision to release a number of prisoners, including journalists and activists; however the names have not yet been made public. Shawkan said his charges, which include attempted murder and belonging to a banned-group, are “illogical and lawless.” He also lamented his detention, which has now reached 550 days, while other journalists with foreign passports have been released despite facing similar charges.

French photographer Louis Jammes, and Mike Giglio, an American reporter working for the Daily Beast were reportedly arrested along with Shawkan during the dispersal of Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, on August 14, 2013, were released within hours of their detention.

Egyptian Al Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed is widely expected to remain in prison, after his colleagues, with foreign nationalities in the same case received different treatment; Australian Peter Greste was deported last week, and Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy renounced his Egyptian citizenship and he is expecting a deportation order. All three were convicted on charges of broadcasting “false news,” and sentenced to seven years in prison. Baher received an extra three years, because he was also found in possession of a weapon.

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste

Baher Mohamed (L),Mohamed Fahmy,Peter Greste – AP

Baher’s wife spoke to the Associated Press Saturday, and told them she was actively searching for countries to grant Baher nationality, and that she would launch a “million signature petition,” and plans to stage a sit-in for his case.

Since less information is available about the application of Sisi’ deportation law, it is not confirmed if Greste and Fahmy, when he leave Egypt to Canada, will be tried in their countries. Both Australian and Canada, however, have spoken in clear support of their citizens and said they committed no crime.  Syndicate member Balshy said that “at least, Baher should be released pending his trial, in order to be out like them.”

Shawkan said “[d]on’t worry Baher, because Al Jazeera will stand by you. For me, I will send my condolences to myself and to all my fellow Egyptian journalists who don’t own another passport or have a big organization to stand with them.”

Al Jazeera Correspondent Abdullah el-Shamy was arrested in the same case and held in the same cell with Shawkan, however he was released pending his case in June 2014. “Without logic I am still detained, while he [El-Shamy] is a free man. This isn’t due to the fairness of the law, but a large media organization to stand by his side,” Shawkan added in his letter.

A huge campaign was launched in favor of the jailed Al Jazeera journalists since their arrest in order to call for their release. The campaign was widely supported and it found sympathizers from all over the world, who took to the social media to publicize the case.

“I don’t know why I have been caught up in a political fight. I do not belong to any organization or camp. I don’t know the reason for keeping me in jail this long. I do not belong to anything except my profession as a photojournalist; just a photojournalist!” Shawkan wrote.

According to his brother Mohamed, Shawkan’s case has not had any progress “since a long time.” Mohamed told The Cairo Post Saturday “Shawkan has his detention renewed every 45 days.” The next detention renewal is on Feb. 10, his Lawyer Ali Abdel Fatah told The Cairo Post.

Prolonged detention is a point of dispute; many human rights organizations consider it as “punishment,” with the law allowing detention to be extended up to two years for certain charges.

Balshy said the situation now is “bad,” and he called for a stop to targeting journalists while fulfilling their job. He said that most of the jailed journalists were caught and being tried in cases linked with the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to Reporters without Borders, 46 journalists were arrested in Egypt in year 2014 on “such pretexts as being Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, endangering national unity or inciting violence or riots.”

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