Ongoing injustice for Shawkan

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

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Photo by Lobna Tarek

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).

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Photo by Ayman Aref Saad

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.

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2016 in review: Iran, Shawkan and Poetry

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote an article in which I looked back at the previous year. I thought it would be nice to start 2017 in a similar way. In the following post I will share my thoughts about 2016 and give you an idea about my plans for my blog in 2017. 

1. As last year I want to start this blog post with saying thank you to everyone who read and shared my blog posts. I also want to thank in particular those who participated in the campaigns. I saw that many of you clicked on the links to Amnesty International petitions and urgent actions and also actions by other human rights organisations. Thank you for joining the tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki in January 2016 and for joining the “Sky for Shawkan”-campaign from September 2016 onwards.

2. 2016 was my first full year of blogging. I wrote 16 blog posts during the year. The articles are in six different categories:

  • 11 posts about human rights in countries in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Eight posts are about prisoners and activists in Iran, four about Saudi Arabia, two about Egypt and one each about a prisoner in Qatar and in the United Arab Emirates.
  • two posts about poetry (they are both in two categories “human rights” and “poetry”)
  • two posts about Twitter (again both posts are in two categories “human rights” and “Twitter”)
  • three posts about classical music
  • one post about art and
  • one post in the General category.

a) The most popular post in 2016 was Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan” with 457 views. I would like to thank in particular the Australian comedian Wil Anderson who shared my post on Twitter and Facebook which resulted in a large number of visitors to this post, in particular from Australia. Also thanks to Melody Sundberg who shared this post on her website “Untold Stories of the Silenced” in English and in a translation into Swedish. Shawkan is sadly still in prison. Further hearings took place on 8 October, 1 November, 19 November, 10 December and 27 December 2016. The next hearing will be on 17 January 2017. Please continue to share his story and ask for his release.

b) The second most popular post was Tweet Storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki with 298 views. The tweet storm for Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki took place on 18 January 2016, because after a furlough of about 6 months, he was ordered back to prison. Many visited my blog on the day of the tweet storm and it was great that so many of you participated in it. On 19 January 2016 Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki returned to prison. After 105 nights in prison and 38 days of hunger strike, he was again given furlough on 4 May 2016. Hossein is currently free, but can be called back to prison at any time.

c) I also want to mention the articles which were my third and fourth most popular ones: Sky for Shawkan with 171 views and Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami with 166 views.

“Sky for Shawkan” is a Twitter campaign for Shawkan. He mentioned in a letter that he misses the sky in prison and therefore we decided to take photos of the sky and tweeted them with the hashtag #SkyforShakwan to raise awareness for him. My blog post shares a selection of 60 photos which were tweeted by people from all over the world within the first week of the campaign. I am delighted that so many of you participated in it and still tweet photos for him. Please keep doing so. I hope Shawkan will soon be free and I wish he would be able to see the photos from all over the world.

“Forbidden Poetry” was the first of two posts about poets who are punished for their poetry. It tells the stories of Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran) and Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar). The second post shares one poem of each of the three poets. I would like to thank the editor of “The Wolfian” for publishing this article in Issue 8 of this magazine.

3. I was amazed last year about the number of visitors to my blog and the variety of countries they came from and I am amazed again this year.

During 2016 2,333 people visited my blog and it got 4,522 views. The visitors were from 79 different countries. Most views came from the following three countries: (1) United States (1,063 views), (2) United Kingdom (785 views) and (3) Germany (579 views). I hope for many visitors in 2017.

4. Enough about 2016, I want to share some of my ideas for 2017:

a) Raif Badawi is sadly still in prison and I will certainly again write about him in 2017. I wrote some time ago an article about my Raif Badawi translation project which I mentioned in my post Twitter is great in 2015. I have in the meantime even more languages and I want to republish this article in an amended form in the next days to mark the anniversary of the day on which Raif Badawi was lashed (9 January 2015) and his birthday (13 January 1984). I hope that he will be released soon, but I am afraid that can only happen if he receives a Royal Pardon.

b) I tweeted during 2016 a lot about Bahrain, but I did not write an article about it. Therefore I definitely plan to write articles about Bahrain in 2017. I still want to write about Hussain Jawad’s father Mohammed Hassan Jawad, also known as Parweez. Furthermore I am very impressed by Nabeel Rajab. Nabeel Rajab is currently in prison in Bahrain. He was arrested on 13 June 2016 on several fabricated charges. The trial is still ongoing. In the last hearing on 28 December 2016 the court ordered his release and adjourned the hearing to 23 January 2017. However, the public prosecution refused to release him and decide to keep him in prison on other charges. He is the only activist I mentioned in my first post about whom I have not yet written a blog post.

c) Another topic about which I would like to write this year is art and human rights. During the past year I came across a number of artists who use their art to highlight the fate of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The prime example of an artist-cum-human rights activist is of course Ai Weiwei, but there are also lesser known artists who paint or make drawings to highlight specific human rights cases. I want to write about some of these artists and want to see what motivates them to use their art in their human rights activism.

d) There will be again blog posts about classical music. I will certainly write about the programmes of our concerts with Highgate Choral Society, but maybe also about other concerts or opera performances I visit.

e) Finally I would like to continue writing about art and exhibitions and also about poetry. We will see what the next year brings.

I hope you like my ideas. There will certainly be many more as the year progresses. If you like them, then please keep an eye on my blog or follow my blog. If you decide to follow my blog, you only need an e-mail address and you will get an e-mail each time I publish a new article.

Let me close this post with my best wishes for 2017 and the hope that 2017 will be a good year for justice, peace and human rights all around the world.

Sky for Shawkan

In my last blog post, I wrote about the Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan). In this post, I want to give an update on his situation and report about a new campaign “Sky for Shawkan”.  It would great, if you could join the campaign.

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  1. The photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan) has been in prison for more than three years. He is not convicted of any crimes; his trial is still ongoing. He is on trial together with 738 other defendants. You can read his whole story in my previous post. The last hearing in the trial took place on 6 September. There are sadly no new developments. The court resumed the examination of evidence. They will continue with this task on 8 October 2016. Shawkan will stay in detention.
    Shawkan’s family, friends and supporters had hoped that he would be included in Abdel Fattah al Sisi’s amnesty for Eid Al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice). Sadly no journalist or other political prisoner was pardoned.
  2. Shawkan said some time ago in a letter that he misses the sky in his prison cell. When he spoke with an AFP reporter during a break in a recent court session, he mentioned that his hopes diminish every day and reiterated that he misses being able to look at the sky. Kate (@Beerinwitsout) sent a tweet on 6 September in which she said: “@ShawkanZeid misses the sky. I took this photo 4him just in England but so want him to see real blue sky soon!”. The tweet included a photo of the sky.
    I thought this is a wonderful idea and it would be fantastic to have more photos of the sky for Shawkan. I put an Instagram post together in which I explained the idea and asked people to (1) take a photo of the sky, (2) share it on Twitter using the hashtag #SkyforShawkan and (3) invite others to join as well.
  3. I am delighted that a lot of people liked the idea and joined in. They sent beautiful photos of the sky from all over the world. Some sent their tweet to the main twitter account for the campaign for Shawkan’s release  (@ShawkanZeid) and only included the hashtag #SkyforShawkan. Others wrote words of support and encouragement for Shawkan or sent a tweet to the Official Twitter account of the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al Sisi and the Foreign Ministry of Egypt and asked them to release Shawkan. Many also sent tweets in which they asked their followers to join the campaign as well.
  4. It is great to have the photos on Twitter, but I thought it would be wonderful to share some of the photos in a blog post as well.
    Here is a selection of photos which were tweeted in the last week. It is a picture gallery, if you click on one of the photos you can see them enlarged:

    Thank you to everyone  who tweeted a photo and thank you for allowing me to use your beautiful photos in this blog post.

  5. Please continue to support the campaign #SkyForShawkan and tweet your photo of the sky to @ShawkanZeid. Please also sign and share the petitions which ask for Shawkan’s release. You find the links to all three petitions in my previous post about him.
  6. It is fabulous to have all this photos of the sky for Shawkan, but I do hope that he soon will be free and will be able to see and enjoy the real sky.

 

Three years of injustice – Freedom for Mahmoud Abu Zeid “Shawkan”

bg_bild_ShawkanMahmoud Abu Zeid who is better known under the name “Shawkan” is a young Egyptian photographer. He is 28 years old and he worked as freelance photographer and contributed to the photo agencies Demotix and Corbis. His photographs were in many well-known and well-regarded newspapers and magazines like the German newspaper Die Zeit and the US Time magazine. He made photos of daily life in Egypt, including festivals and street life. With the beginning of the Arab Spring uprising he also covered political protests. You can find a sample of his amazing photos here.

Shawkan has been in prison for almost three years without a trial or a judgement. By his ongoing detention, Egypt violates International law, but also their own laws. Pursuant to Art. 134 Egyptian Code for Criminal Procedures the pre-trial detention must not exceed two years (if the alleged offence is punishable by life imprisonment or death, in other cases the permissible pre-trial detention is shorter). If two years have passed, the detainee must be released. Sunday 14 August will be the third anniversary of his arrest.

This is his story:

1. The Arrest

14 August 2013 will be remembered as a momentous day in the history of Egypt, but it was also a fateful day for the young photographer Shawkan, a day which changed his life.

To explain what happened on this day, I have to go further back in the recent history of Egypt: The weeks and months before 14 August 2013 were exceptional times. On 30 June 2012 Mohammed Morsi a candidate of the Muslim brotherhood was elected as president of Egypt. He was the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt. In November he issued a constitutional decree which extended his competences as president and meant that his actions could not be challenged by the courts. On 22 November 2012 millions began to protest against Mohammed Morsi. These protests continued for the rest of 2012 and the first half of 2013. There were soon complaints about the prosecution of journalists and non-violent protesters.

On 30 June 2013 widespread protests called for the resignation of Mohammed Morsi. Three days later on 3 July 2013 Mohammed Morsi was removed from office by a coalition under the leadership of the Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In the weeks after the 3 July 2013 the supporter of the ousted president protested and occupied two camps in Cairo: one at al-Nahda Square and a larger one at Rabaa al-Adwiya Mosque. They asked for the reinstatement of Mohammed Morsi as president. These camps were raided on 14 August 2013. The police opened fire on demonstrators and everyone else who happened to be there and killed presumably more than 1000 people. Thousands were wounded and thousands were arrested.

Shawkan worked on this day on an assignment for Demotix. He arrived at 9 a.m. at the police lines surrounding the Rabaa square. He identified himself as photojournalist to the police and was immediately arrested. Together with him the French freelance photojournalist Louis Jammes and the American journalist Mike Giglio were arrested. Their hands were shackled and they and others were brought to a Cairo stadium. Louis Jammes and Mike Giglio were released after a few hours, but Shawkan stayed in detention. He was brought to a police station and questioned.

Shawkan describes his arrest and also what happened in the police station in a letter which he wrote on 5 March 2015. He and others were severely beaten and kicked several times. He also describes the crowded and dirty cells and the hopelessness he feels. The letter is well worth reading.

2. Timeline of Injustice

To look at the events since Shawkan’s arrest means looking at ongoing injustice:

16 August 2013: Shawkan is questioned by the prosecutor without a lawyer present

20 August 2013: Transfer of Shawkan to Abu Zabaal Prison. He is punched, kicked and beaten by officers

December 2013: Transfer to Tora Prison. His detention is ongoing and is prolonged in regular intervals (every 45 days).

9 February 2015: Shawkan is questioned by the Minster of Interior about a letter he wrote which was posted on the Facebook page “Freedom for Shawkan”

11 August 2015: Public Prosecutor refers Shawkan and 400 others to the criminal courts. Shawkan’s lawyer is initially not informed about this development, but finds out later. He is then denied access to important documents and information about the charges, number of defendants and relevant provisions of the penal code.

12 December 2015: Trial against Shawkan together with 738 other defendants (including leaders of Muslim Brotherhood movement) is due to begin. Shakwan is the only journalist among the defendants. The trial is postponed, because the court room is not large enough for all defendants (postponed to 6 February 2016)

5 February 2016: Shawkan is put in solitary confinement for allegedly owning a mobile phone. One of the other detainees tells the officers that it is his, but the prison insists on punishing Shawkan. This is how the Twitter account in support of Shawkan described the solitary confinement:

6 February 2016: Trial is again postponed (to 26 March), because of a lack of space for all defendants.

26 March 2016: Trial against Shawkan (and 738 other defendants) starts. Shawkan faces now specific charges, including

“joining a criminal gang”, “murder”, “attempted murder”, “participating in a gathering with the purpose of intimidation and creating terror and exposing people’s life to danger”, “obstructing public utilities”, “overthrowing the regime through the use of force and violence, a show of strength and the threat of violence”, “resisting the authorities”, “obstructing the implementation of laws, surveillance” and “disturbing public peace”.

Shawkan denies all charges against him. If he is convicted, he risks the death penalty. The trial is adjourned to 23 April to allow the defence lawyers to get the files and prepare the defence.

23 April 2016: Trial is postponed (to 10 May), because one of the defendants is not brought to the court room.

10 May 2016: Trial is postponed (to 17 May) to allow the prosecution to bring physical evidence to the court room.

17 May 2016: Trial is again postponed to 21 May.

21 May 2016: Hearing takes place. Shawkan has a chance to address the judge and explains that he was only doing his job as photojournalist when he was arrested. The trial is adjourned to 28 June 2016 to allow the defence lawyer to look at further material the prosecutor presented (e.g. technical documents, but also videos and flash drives).

28 June 2016: Trial is postponed to 9 August, because Shawkan and other defendants are not in court. They were not transferred from prison for security reasons.

9 August 2016: During the hearing the defense lawyers of some defendants accuse the Deputy Minister of Interior of torturing them and demand investigations. Trial is again adjourned and will continue on 6 September.

3. Please take action for Shawkan

Amnesty International monitors the case of Shawkan and issued an urgent action (UA 243/14) with several updates over the past years. Shawkan is a prisoner of conscience. The charges against Shawkan are trumped-up and he is arrested and prosecuted for his journalistic work and for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Since his arrest, his health has deteriorated. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, but he is denied medication. In addition he is depressed, barely eats, suffers from anaemia and insomnia. His family and his lawyers tried over and over again to get him released on medical grounds. So far this was not successful.

The cases of other journalists which were detained in Egypt (including the cases of Mohammed Fadel Fahmy, Baher Mohammed and Peter Greste who worked for Al-Jazeera) showed that public attention and pressure do lead to results.

There are currently three petitions for Shawkan. Please sign them and share them widely:

If you use Social Media, please support him on Facebook and Twitter and use the hashtag #FreeShawkan. Please do so in particular on Sunday to mark the third anniversary of his arrest.

In case you still have doubts whether your signature or activism changes anything, I want to end with a few lines from a letter Shawkan wrote on 1 December 2015:

I’m sorry to tell you that “I became a person of full of hopelessness.”

This is my new me. However, I keep resisting my new me because of you and only because all of you, all the people and all supporters who are standing by me.

You keep me feeling that I’m not alone. You all have become my power and my energy and without all of you I cannot go through this.

I want to send my deep love and respect and my appreciation of all what you are doing for me. I feel so lucky to have such kind people like you. And indeed it’s my honor to count you as my friends.

“KEEP SHOUTING, JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME”