Jailed Egyptian photoreporter to receive United Nations press freedom prize

Maricruz Casares
Abril 24, 2018

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, has been selected by an independent global jury of media professionals as the laureate of the 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize.

"The choice of Mahmoud Abu Zeid pays tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression", Maria Ressa, President of the jury.

Egypt's Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal shortly later criticized the announcement, saying that UNESCO shouldn't be involved in any political matters, as its major interests should remain in culture.

Shawkan is the first Egyptian laureate of the prize, having been selected by an independent jury of worldwide media professionals, said the press release. "These political stances are backed by specific governments known with their support to terrorism".

Jailed Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid "Shawkan", has been selected for the 2018 UNESCO Press Freedom Prize.

MP Alaa Abed, chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives, said during his speech that Shawkan was accused of committing terrorist acts and criminal offenses, and often sent photos to terrorist organizations overseas so they could use them to claim what happened in Egypt after June 30,2013 was a coup, not a revolution.

"These charges are purely of criminal nature, and they are not related to freedom of press and expression", said the statement.

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A foreign ministry statement added the prize was driven by organisations and countries that support the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it a "terrorist group".

Both the nomination and final announcement created a wide debate on social media. He concluded his statement saying that awarding Shawkan with the prize means marginalizing the state of law in Egypt.

Shawkan had been in prison, where he remains, for more than 600 days at the time. He denounced "the Foreign Ministry's objection to awarding Shukan just because he was indicted in a case that has not been ruled for five years".

Shawkan and more than 700 other people face many charges, which include belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, possessing firearms and murder.

Shawkan has been in prison since August 14, 2013, where he reportedly faces the death penalty.

On Sunday, the Photojournalists Department at the Press Syndicate in Egypt affirmed its "full support and trust in Shawkan's innocence", adding that there are documents proving his coverage assignment.

In October 2016, President Sisi announced the formation of a presidential pardon committee, to examine prisoners' cases similar to Shawkan and determine who deserves to be pardoned.

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