Imprisoned photojournalist Mohammed Abu Zeid – popularly known as Shawkan – is set to go to trial on the 12th of December, the Freedom for Shawkan Campaign has told Egyptian Streets. The journalist’s name has been added to the list of defendants in the so-called Rabaa dispersal case, for which the Cairo Appeal Court has now set an opening trial date.
Shawkan is accused of belonging to a banned group, murder and attempted murder. It is the first time the photographer has been officially charged with a crime after spending more than 760 days in prison, exceeding the maximum pretrial detention period of two years that is regulated by Egyptian law.
Yara Salah of the Freedom for Shawkan Campaign still has concerns the court date might not happen after all, because the file for the trial seems to be very unorganized. “Initially there were more than a thousand names included in the case, but a few days ago 365 of those were excluded again and yesterday another seven people were taken off the list,” she explained.
“If that happens to Shawkan he might spend another year behind bars.” However, she adds that “if he remains in the trial he will also stay behind bars for a long time, because court cases in Egypt take a long time.”
Salah is also worried about the judge who is residing over the trial, Hasan Farid, referring to him as ‘infamous’. Farid is known for giving long sentences in terrorism cases.
In the past two years the Egyptian authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people in a massive security crackdown. The courts are overwhelmed and are struggling to keep up with the number of files. Shawkan’s case has been particularly troubled, with his lawyers repeatedly denied access to his files, court hearings getting postponed without prior notice or being held without defendants in attendance.
In August Shawkan’s lawyers tried to file an appeal for his release on the grounds of the pre-trial detention period having expired, but the Cairo appeals court refused to accept the papers.
Shawkan was arrested while covering the violent dispersal of the Rabaa el-Adawiyya sit-in by Egyptian security forces. He was on assignment for the British photo agency Demotix. Two foreign correspondents were arrested with Abu Zeid, but were released the same day. A few weeks ago Shawkan started a hunger strike to protest his prolonged detainment.