On Sunday, Cairo denounced UNESCO’s intention to grant Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photojournalist and prisoner in Egypt known as Shawkan, the Freedom of Press Prize, a denunciation that the photojournalist’s lawyer described as “anticipating the judiciary’s verdict,” according to Anadolu news agency.
Shawkan was arrested on August 14, 2013 while covering the Egyptian security forces’ dispersal of Rabaa el-Adaweya sit-in (in the east of Cairo), wherein hundreds of people were killed.
The prosecution also accused Shukan of “unauthorised demonstration, attempted murder, joining an armed gang and assaulting security.” Shawkan denies these charges and is still being held in a Cairo prison.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it issued that “It has been informed about UNESCO’s intention to grant Mahmoud Abou Zaid, known as Shawkan, an International Freedom of Press Prize.”
The Foreign Ministry has expressed its regret noting that Shawkan faces, “criminal accusations that have no political motive contrary to what some claim and are not related to the execution of the profession of journalism and freedom of expression.”
The Foreign Ministry said it would hand the organisation a full file of the photojournalist, saying that awarding Shawkan the international prize “involves contempt for the state of law” and “a reintroduction of what has already been raised about the politicisation of the UNESCO.”
It was not possible to obtain UNESCO’s comments on these accusations.
Shawkan’s lawyer, Karim Abdel Radhi, told Anadolu news agency that: “The Foreign Ministry is anticipating the judiciary’s verdict and accusing his client of involvement in violence acts rather than being proud that an Egyptian would win an International Freedom of Press Prize.”
He added: “And that is done with no intention to lift the unjust verdict which caused him to be held for five years in violation of Egyptian law and legislation,” referring to an Egyptian law that sets a maximum limit of two years for pre-trial detention.
He also explained that “There is no evidence against Shawkan in the case and there is a legal norm that the accused person is innocent until proven guilty.” He denounced “the Foreign Ministry’s objection to awarding Shawkan just because he was indicted in a case that has not been ruled for five years.”
The lawyer pointed out that Shawkan was also the winner of the 2016 Press Freedom Award granted by the International Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).