Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as the freelance photographer Shawkan, has been behind bars in Egypt for 705 days without charge. Today’s hearing to either renew his time in jail or release him was postponed. His detention continues.
He’s under investigation for weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder and attempted murder after being arrested on August 14, 2013 with hundreds of others, as police violently dispersed pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo. In a letter released on the 600th day of his detention, Abou Zeid says the investigation is fabricated and that he was taking pictures at the time of his arrest.
“Photography is not just a hobby for me it is an actual way of life. It’s not just how you hold a camera and snap a picture. It’s the way that you see life and everything around you. My passion is photography, but I am paying the price for my passion with my life. Without it, a part of me is missing.”
In his letter he describes severe beatings by the police and the hopelessness of life behind bars.
“My dream is freedom, always freedom but the pain I feel is immense. I cannot describe it to you. I sleep for hours and hours and then suffer nights of insomnia. I find myself unable to speak with the other prisoners, even with my own family….I am dying. No one knows what going inside me. My spirit fights to stay alive. I am not only trapped inside these four walls, but I’m trapped inside my mind. I vomit frequently. I find it hard to breathe. I feel pressure on my chest. I carry the weight of failure and it is heavy. I carry huge pain and grief that I am failing to realize the power of my dreams (sadly). For almost two years, this is my life, all because I was following my dream and doing my job as a photojournalist.”
Abou Zeid is one of at least 18 journalists in jail in Egypt according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. And the imprisonment of journalists in Egypt is at an “all-time high.”
On July 30th, a verdict is expected in the retrial of two Al Jazeera English journalists accused of reporting false news among other charges. They were previously convicted of up to ten years in jail. The case received international attention and outcry.
For Abou Zeid there’s been less hoopla. His family says he’s been forgotten by the world but an online campaign to free him has led to some global protests and petitions. His next hearing is scheduled for August 3rd.