CAIRO: “I miss my camera, I miss the reason for my scourge and calamity, I miss holding it between my hands to see the life through it…I miss smelling it in the morning before my coffee time, and yes- unfortunately- I miss my work…which costs me days of my life.”
In these heartbreaking words, detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, famous for Shawkan, sends a letter from prison after he completes two years behind bars without trial.
“I am Mahmoud Abu Zaid, Shawkan, and I am today completing 700 days in Torah cemetery, I live here… and I think here will be my final resting place….Can you save me?” he said in his letter, which was read out Wednesday by his recently released colleague, Photojournalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, at a press conference marking the “unjustly” detention of Shawkan.
Shawkan was arrested August 14, 2013, during his coverage of the police dispersal of Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in, which was widely condemned for “brutality” of police that led to the death of hundreds of people, mostly affiliated with the banned-Muslim Brotherhood group.
Although he was arrested while doing his job, accusations drawn against Shawkan had nothing to do with his work as photojournalist. He was charged of murder, attempted murder, assaulting security forces and weapon possession.
His lawyer Karim Abdel Rady spoke at the conference about violations spotted in Shawkan’s case, including: physical assault during detention, absence of a lawyer during interrogations and the release of two foreign journalists arrested with Shawkan, on same day of detention.
“Shawkan should have been released from day one, we have submitted all papers proving that he is a journalist and that he was assigned by his agency Demotix to cover the dispersal,” continued Rady.
“Shawkan should be released immediately,” his lawyer said, adding that his client has completed two years; the maximum period stipulated in the law for remand detention.
Shawkan’s father complained about prison “tenacious” he faces to send his son food and medicine. “My son is wronged, he was only carrying his camera, not a cannon or a gun.”
In prison, Shawkan developed hepatitis C and his health deteriorated, Freedom for Shawkan Campaign previously announced.
“I want to tell you that I am getting used to my skinny, pale body…sometimes I do not know whether the pain is from bloody virus C or from Anemia,” Shawkan said in his letter.
Journalists facing jail for doing their job
At least 35 journalists are currently detained, mostly over charges related to their work, said Khaled el-Balshy, a member of press syndicate, in contradiction to official announcement that no journalists are jailed over publishing crimes.
“Either they [authorities] do not say truth or they do not know; this is a major problem,” Balshy added.
Gehad Hamdy, a photojournalist, told The Cairo Post “the situation is getting worse; a sense of enmity against cameras is growing in the streets. passersby often obstruct us in the streets ,thinking they are protecting the nation that way.”
During the first six months of the year 2015, “172 violations against journalists were spotted; 91 of them were committed by individuals affiliated with state security agencies,” said Mostafa Shaat, Researcher at the Egyptian Center for General Political Studies. The violations included: physical assaults, detention and prevention from doing their work.
Shaat further referred to legal violations during journalists’ trials, describing evidences thrown against Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, accused of “trumped-up” terror-related charges, as “insulting and funny.”