Mahmoud Abu Zeid

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Mahmoud Abou Zeid
Native name
Mahmoud Abou Zeid
Other namesShawkan
OccupationFreelance photojournalist
Known forPhotos of protests in Cairo
AwardsJohn Aubuchon Press Freedom Award 2016.
CPJ's 2016 International Press Freedom Awards.
UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize 2018.
Mahmoud Abou Zeid took pictures in Tahir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian protests.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan (born ca. 1987), an Egyptian photojournalist, was arrested for taking photos at the Rabaa massacre 14 August 2013 in Cairo, Egypt and imprisoned during the post-coup unrest by the Egyptian government since 2013, where he faces the death penalty.[1][2] By September 2018 he had been sentenced to a 5-year prison term and was expected to be released shortly thereafter[3]; he was released on 4 March 2019.[4]

Personal life[edit]

In 2016 Zeid has Hepatitis C, which he was diagnosed for while in prison. He has also been diagnosed with malnourishment, anemia, and depression, as well as lacking proper medical care.[1][2][5][6]


Zeid is an award-winning freelance photojournalist.[1][7] He started working for Demotix in April 2010.[8] In the wake of the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état, Zeid took photographs of protests against General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.[1] His work has been published in Time, The Sun, Die Zeit, Bild and on the BBC website.[1][8] His work has also been reproduced by Amnesty International, Global Voices, IFEX, Index on Censorship and Open Democracy.[8]


Zeid was arrested along with two other journalists while he was taking pictures of the 14 August 2013 Rabaa massacre.[2][9]

The two other non-Egyptian journalists were released but Shawkan remained in prison for more than two years without charges.[10][11] His case, along with 700 other defendants, is known as the "Rabaa sit-in dispersal".[12] Shawkan's camera has not been used as evidence he is a photojournalist, which makes his status as a prisoner ambiguous.[13]

By November 2015, he had been in "pre-trial detention for over two years".[14] On 26 March 2016, he was charged with six offences, and, as a result, faced the death penalty.[2]

On 8 September, an Egyptian court handed him a 5-year jail sentence which could see him leave prison "within a few days," said his lawyer Karim Abdelrady. [3] Abdelrady added that the sentence was nevertheless "unfair because he (Shawkan) was only doing his job".

Shawkan was released early on 4 March 2019, 6 years after he was arrested.[4]


Egypt was in 2015 among the top ten countries of world in the imprisonment of journalists with 12.[15] Shawkan is being held in Egypt's Tora Prison.[1] As of end of 2015, China had the largest number of imprisoned journalists for the past two years with the number of 49 journalists.[16]


There is an international campaign for Shawkan's release using the hashtag #FreeShawkan and several press freedom organizations including the Rory Peck Trust and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called for his release,[8][17][18] while Amnesty International has started an online petition for it.[2] In February 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists met with officials in Egypt to call for his release.[19] Shawkan is a featured case in the Press Uncuffed campaign, led by Dana Priest and her students at the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism in collaboration with the Committee to Protect Journalists to help free imprisoned journalists throughout the world by selling bracelets bearing their names and raising awareness about their cases.[20] In 2016 the Committee to Protect Journalists organized an exhibit of Shawkan's work at the Bronx Documentary Center.[21]

In 2018, UNESCO awarded Press Freedom Prize for his contributions and marked its detention as Human Rights abuse. [22]

According to Jason Stern, a senior Middle East and North Africa research associate for the CPJ, Shawkan should have never been arrested for performing his job duties.[23] In a letter published by news outlets such as National Public Radio and Deutsche Welle, as well as human rights groups, Shawkan wrote about how journalism in Egypt has become a crime. There are 13 journalists who are facing a life sentence or death.[24][25][26]

Shawkan's brother, Mohammed, spoke on his brother's imprisonment, "For a year, my brother is being held without charges in prison, he was detained during the dispersal of Rabaa and his detention has been renewed since then. My brother never held a gun, he was simply doing his job, but unfortunately he was a freelancer, so he had no institution to back him or offer any support."[27]


  • "The Price of Photography: Shawkan, 1,000+ Days Behind Bars," at the Bronx Documentary Center.[28]



The Free Shawkan Foundation was founded by Shawkan’s lifelong best friend Ahmed Abu Seif in the United States to advocate for Shawkan and other imprisoned journalists worldwide.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Trafford, Robert (28 October 2015). "Shawkan: Top Egyptian news photographer in prison for over 800 days without trial". The Independent.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Egyptian photojournalist at risk of death penalty". Amnesty International. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Egypt court hands 5-year jail term to photojournalist Shawkan". Rappler. 8 September 2018. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Central, News (4 March 2019). "Egyptian photojournalist released from jail after nearly six years". News Central TV - Latest African news, stories, live TV. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan)". PEN America.
  6. ^ "Egyptian Photojournalist Receives US Award From Behind Bars". 29 June 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Egypt - Awards - Committee to Protect Journalists".
  8. ^ a b c d Greenslade, Roy (25 June 2014). "The photojournalist held in an Egyptian jail for 10 months without charge". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  9. ^ "Journalists detained, attacked amid unrest in Egypt". 19 August 2013.
  10. ^ "On the Divide: Press Freedom at Risk in Egypt". 14 August 2013.
  11. ^ "In Egypt, censorship, an arrest, and court hearings for journalists". 7 November 2016.
  12. ^ a b "Shawkan finds organisation for journalists' rights while in detention". Daily News Egypt. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  13. ^ "After nearly 1000 days in prison, hearing adjourned for photojournalist Shawkan". 23 April 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  14. ^ Black, Ian; Khalil, Jahd (9 November 2015). "Anger as Egypt detains campaigning journalist". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Egypt photojournalist describes detention of over 600 days". Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  16. ^ Bredemeier, Ken. "Free Press Report: China, Egypt Lead World in Jailing Journalists". VOA News.
  17. ^ "World Press Freedom Day marks 262 days in prison without charge for Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid". Rory Peck Trust. 2 May 2014.
  18. ^ "CPJ urges Egypt to release journalists ahead of Eid al-Adha holiday". Committee to Protect Journalists. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  19. ^ Courtney C. Radsch (13 February 2015). "Mission Journal: In Egypt, glimmer of hope in bleak press environment".
  20. ^ "Press Uncuffed".
  21. ^ "The price of photography: Shawkan, 1000+ days behind bars - Committee to Protect Journalists".
  22. ^ "Egypt releases award-winning photojournalist after five years | ePaper | DAWN.COM". Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  23. ^ "Egyptian authorities postpone the trial of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid". AfricaNews.
  24. ^ "Hearing Postponed For Freelance Photographer Jailed In Egypt".
  25. ^ "'I am a journalist, not a criminal' - Freedom of Speech". Deutsche Welle. 29 June 2015.
  26. ^ "600 days in jail for taking pictures: A letter from an Egyptian prison". Amnesty International.
  27. ^ "A freelance photojournalist forgotten behind prison walls". 28 July 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  28. ^ "Why Has This Egyptian Photojournalist Been Imprisoned for More Than 1,000 Days?". Slate. 7 September 2016.
  29. ^ "National Press Club honors two photographers with Press Freedom Awards". National Press Club (US). 24 June 2016.
  30. ^ "Mahmoud Abou Zeid, Egypt - Awards". Committee to Protect Journalists.

External links[edit]