Jailed Egypt photographer says he's been 'forgotten'
15 August 2016, 17:14
Cairo - Shouting to make himself heard from the
soundproof glass dock during a break in his trial, Egyptian photographer
Mahmoud Abdel Shakour said he feels he has been "forgotten" in prison.
Three years ago, Abdel Shakour - known as Shawkan - had been covering the police
dispersal of an Islamist protest camp in Cairo when he was arrested, and he has
been in jail ever since.
August 14, 2013,
was the bloodiest day in Egypt's modern history
and one of the deadliest in the region since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
Hundreds of Islamists supporting ousted president
Mohamed Morsi, toppled by the military in July that year, were mowed down by
police in clashes. About 10 policemen were killed.
Three years later, thousands of Islamists remain in
prison after a wide-ranging crackdown that has extended to leftists and even
journalists like Shawkan.
Shawkan had been photographing the carnage that day for
the Demotix photo agency when he was arrested. Three journalists, including Sky
News cameraman Michael Deane, were shot dead in the violence.
The photographer spent months in pre-trial
detention before he was put on trial along with hundreds of other defendants
over the protest.
"I feel like I've been forgotten in
prison," Shawkan, 29, told an AFP
reporter during a break at a recent court session, yelling through the glass
barrier to make himself heard.
"I feel despair, and powerless. Time is flying
by while I'm in jail."
He is imprisoned in a poorly ventilated cell which
becomes scorching hot in summer.
"My hope diminishes every day," he said,
adding that he missed being able to look at the sky.
Sitting on his bed back home, next to a framed
picture of her son, Shawkan's mother Reda
Mahrous said she has trouble getting to sleep.
"I feel oppression and injustice," she
said, wearing a green bracelet that her son made her in prison.
"Every day I make his bed and wait for a knock on the door to see him before me. But it
Shawkan and his 738 co-defendants are accused of
involvement in the killings of policemen and resisting the authorities during
the protest dispersal.
If convicted, they will face the death penalty.
"There is no evidence against him. To the
contrary, there is evidence proving he was working as a freelance
photographer," said his lawyer Karim Abdel Rady.
The photographer has won two awards this year,
including one from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"I wanted to be happy but I couldn't. Give me
my freedom and take the prize," Shawkan said.
He suffers from Hepatitis C, which is common in
Egypt, and his family says he needs treatment that is not available in prison.
Shawkan was detained as part of a crackdown on Egyptian journalists, rights activists say.
His co-defendant Abdullah Elshamy, a journalist
with Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, was released and left the
country after a long hunger strike.
Rights groups say President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's
government has tried to repress all opposition since the former army chief led
the overthrow of Morsi.
Fears of restrictions on press freedoms heightened
after the head of the Journalists' Syndicate and two aides were put on trial
for harbouring wanted men - including a reporter - in the union's headquarters.
They had been sought by police for alleged
involvement in April protests against a deal to give Saudi Arabia two islands.
"It's the worst era for someone to be a
journalist in Egypt," said Sherif Mansour, with the New York-based
Committee to Protect Journalists.
Egypt provoked international condemnation when it
arrested three Al-Jazeera reporters, including an Australian and a Canadian, in
late 2013 and put them on trial.
They were sentenced to jail terms but were later
pardoned by Sisi after a lengthy international campaign, and have since left
He said the parties also had common ground in their manifestos,
which included the eradication of shacks.