100 Beautiful POC – Day 14

Mahmoud Abu Zeid / Shawkan

[14] Shawkan_2Shawkan is an Egyptian Photojournalist who has been incarcerated now for over 2 years. I’ve written about him before in a longer piece that focused on the broader trend of civil rights violations in Egypt, but in this post I will be focusing primarily on Shawkan as a highlight of 100 Beautiful POC and I will be providing context for those who haven’t read my earlier piece and/or don’t have know anything about Shawkan. 

In July and August 2013 hundreds of protesters carried out a sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square to denounce the ousting of deposed President Morsi. On Aug. 14, after protesters had been camped out for 45 days, police attacked the encampment to forcefully and brutally disperse the crowd, killing over 600 people, according to estimates from the Egyptian Health Ministry, although a report by Human Rights Watch estimated the actual number to be closer to 1,000. The event became known as the Rabaa Massacre, deemed the most unlawful and massive killings in Egypt’s modern history by Human Rights Watch, as well as a crime against humanity. Executive Director Kenneth Roth even declared the massacre to be “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.”

Hundreds more people were detained, including many journalists who were simply in the area to document events as they unfolded. Among those journalists arrested was Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a freelance photojournalist known as Shawkan. Shawkan was known internationally at the time, having contributed to the publications Time Magazine, Die Zeit, BILD, Media Group, and the online photo agency Demotix, however his international connections were incapable of freeing him from prison.

In a letter to Amnesty International, published in April 2015, Shawkan recounted the horrifying details of his arrest: being beaten by police and detained in Cairo Stadium for hours before being transferred to an overcrowded cell and continuously beaten by police. He was eventually transported to Tora Prison, where he remains today, after nearly three years, still detained without charge. Kept at times in solitary confinement, Shawkan’s health has deteriorated and he now suffers from Hepatitis C.

On March 26, 2016, he finally received a court hearing, during which “an official from the public prosecution directed nine phony charges against Shawkan.” As a result, he now not only faces the possibility of life imprisonment, but potentially the death penalty, simply for doing his job and taking photographs for an international photo agency, Demotix, which even vouched for him, claiming responsibility for his being in Rabaa Square on Aug. 14, 2013.

I don’t mean to cast a gray cloud on a project that’s meant to uplift people of color, but I felt it important to share Shawkan’s story as it’s representative of the extremity of rights violations in Egypt under President Sisi. “Shawkan should never have been arrested in the first place and should be free to peacefully practice his work as a photojournalist, guaranteed by his right to freedom of expression.” For Shawkan, photography is not just a hobby, but the medium through which he viewed life and the world, and he used his passion to document Egypt’s modern history, a necessity in recent years as the state of affairs has rapidly deteriorated.

If you’d like to show your support for Shawkan, albeit in a minimal, but still meaningful way, you are welcome and encouraged to sign Amnesty International’s petition against Shawkan’s unlawful imprisonment, or visit http://www.freeshawkan.com/ for more info.

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