Two years ago, on 12 December 2015, a mass trial started in Cairo, Egypt against more than 700 defendants. It is the so-called “Rabaa Dispersal” trial. Among these defendant is a young photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid who is known under the name “Shawkan”. He turned 30 in November 2017. This was his fourth birthday behind bars. Shawkan was only doing his job when he was arrested, but he still in prison.
I want to write in this post about Shawkan and his current situation. I also want to share a selection of photos of the sky which activists from all over the world posted in support of the #SkyForShakwan campaign.
1. An unjust trial with endless delays
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I wrote in August 2016, almost 16 months ago, the blog post Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan”. This injustice is still ongoing. Shawkan has spent in the meantime almost four years and four months in prison.
Shawkan was arrested on 14 August 2013 at Rabaa Square. He worked as photographer and was on this day on an assignment for Demotix. He was arrested while he was making photos of the protest.
The trial against Shawkan and 738 other defendants started two years ago on 12 December 2015. Shawkan is the only journalist in the trial. Other defendants were participants in the protest, some belong to the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The trial is still ongoing. In 2016 14 hearings took place (6 February, 26 March, 23 April, 10 May, 17 May, 21 May, 28 June, 9 August, 6 September, 8 October, 1 November, 19 November, 10 December and 27 December 2016). In 2017 there were up to now 24 hearings and postponements (17 January, 7 February, 25 February, 21 March, 8 April, 9 May, 20 May, 30 May, 13 June, 4 July, 5 August, 12 August, 19 August, 12 September, 23 September, 7 October, 17 October, 24 October, 31 October, 7 November, 14 November, 21 November and 2 December 2017).
The last hearing was a few days ago, on 5 December. The trial was again adjourned and will continue on 16 December. This will be the 25th hearing this year and the 40th hearing altogether in this trial. Not all of the defendants are present for every trial date. If they do attend, there are in a cage in the court room.
During the past two years a number of defendants were released on medical grounds. Shawkan was diagnosed with Hepatitis C before his arrest. He is now also suffering from anemia and his health deteriorated severely in prison over the years. Shawkan does not receive proper medical treatment and spent all his time a small, overcrowded and dirty cell.
Katia Roux from Amnesty International France spoke with FRANCE 24 about a months ago:
“The most urgent thing today is that medical care can be provided. …There is a real danger to his health. After a year of detention, he wrote saying he was confined 22 hours a day in a 2 metre by 4 metre cell with 12 other prisoners. These are extremely difficult detention conditions.”
His mother visits Shawkan every week. She said that her son is sometimes in a wheelchair and sometimes unable to sit for a longer time. Even so the evidence for his bad health is clear, the prosecutor claims that Shawkan is in “very good health” and that there is no basis for a release on medical grounds for him.
No one knows how many more hearings there will be. The court proceedings have not provided any evidence against him. But the trumped up charges against him, could lead to many years in prison or even the death penalty. You can find more about the charges, the background of the arrest and the trial in my blog post from August 2016.
The whole situation is also extremely difficult for Shawkan’s family. Their son and brother who loved live and photography is now in a state between despair and indifference. Leena El Deeb wrote a very moving portrait of his family and their situation. The article is called “Shawkan’s place: Between memory and hope” and is published on the website Madamasr. It is an article which is well worth reading.
2. Update on the Sky for Shawkan campaign
What can we do for Shawkan? I think the most important thing is to continue to campaign for him and make sure that he is not forgotten.
More than a year ago I started together with other activists the campaign #SkyForShakwan. Shawkan said in a letter from prison that he misses the sky. We felt that we should take photos of the sky and share them on social media to show support for him and raise awareness about his case. I have exchanged messages with a number of activists who have shared many photos over time. All of them told me that the campaign has changed the way how they looked at the sky. This is certainly also true for me. I took over the past 14 months many photos of the sky, some in London where I live, but also many on holiday. I certainly appreciate the sky and its beauty much more than before and I can understand why Shawkan misses it.
I wrote about this campaign in September 2016 and also included a selection of photos which were shared within the first week of the campaign. Since then people from all over the world and from every continent have continued to tweet their photos of the sky using the hashtag #SkyForShawkan. France Culture even mentioned the #SkyForShakwan campaign in programme in March 2017.
The photos I have chosen can only give a small glimpse of all the photos which were tweeted over the past 14 months. My selection of photos includes many photos from different parts of Europe, but there are also photos of the sky in India and Iran, in the USA and in Canada. Nuria Tesón who is a journalist joined the campaign and tweeted a photo of the sky in Cairo, Egypt. The Amnesty Group in Caracas, Venezuela has been supporting the campaign for Shawkan’s release for quite some time. They took the opportunity and used their Write For Rights event last Saturday to take some photos of the sky in Caracas, Venezuela.
The photos show very different imagines of the sky. In some photos the sky is blue with almost no clouds, in other photos it is scattered with small white Cirrocumulus clouds or it is overcast with dark thunderclouds; some were taken at sunset and some at dawn. In each of the photos the sky has a different character, a different mood and almost seem to show different emotions.
Before I post the photos, I also have to mention @WhippetHaiku. She not only joined the campaign, but developed the idea a little bit further. She wrote wonderful haikus for Shawkan and put them in the photos of the sky. I have included some of her photos in the selection below and you can read on her photos also the haikus. She shared her thoughts about this project in her own blog and I invite you to read her post there.
3. A selection of photos for #SkyForShawkan
Here is my selection of photos. It is a picture gallery, if you click on one of the photos you can see it enlarged. You can also see where the photos were taken and who took them:
I hope you like the photos. If you do, then please join the #SkyForShawkan campaign and share your photos of the sky and make sure that Shawkan is not forgotten.