National Press Club

National Press Club welcomes release of Egyptian photojournalist

March 4, 2019 | By John M. Donnelly |

The National Press Club celebrated the release of the Club's 2016 John Aubuchon Press Freedom award winner from an Egyptian prison Monday but expressed concern about the terms of his release and the continued detention of other Egyptian reporters.

Photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, was released Monday under "police observation" for five years, meaning he will have to appear at a police station every day at sunset, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Shawkan will also be prohibited from managing his financial assets and properties, according to news reports. His family has said it will appeal.

Shawkan has been jailed since 2013 after he photographed Egyptian military and police personnel who were involved in a massacre in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square. Egyptian authorities accused Shawkan of murder and belonging to a terrorist organization. He spent two years in prison before his trial even began.Shawkan has Hepatitis C and his health had been failing during his long incarceration.

“We are happy that Shawkan is finally free, but he should never have spent a day in jail, and the terms of his release are unacceptable,” said Club President Alison Kodjak. “He was robbed of more than five years of his life just for having done his job, covering the news."

The Club's leaders drew attention to the many other journalists who remain jailed in Egypt, including Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who has been held in custody for 801 days and counting without formal charge or trial.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported in December that 25 journalists were behind bars in Egypt. Only Turkey and China had imprisoned more journalists.

CPJ reported, too, that Egypt had jailed 19 journalists on "fake-news" charges--more than any other country. Worldwide, CPJ said, the number of journalists imprisoned for supposedly fake news rose to 28--up from nine two years ago.

“The release of Shawkan is great news, but it should also remind us of the many reporters who remain jailed in Egypt for merely bearing witness,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s nonprofit. “Egypt, a U.S. ally and recipient of billions of dollars each year in American aid, is one of the world’s top jailers of journalists.”

Last July, the Club wrote Egypt's ambassador to the United States to press for Shawkan's release. Last September, Shawkan was sentenced to five years in prison and five months probation -- time he had already served. He was given six additional months for fines he had allegedly failed to pay.

The Committee to Protect Journalists gave Shawkan its International Press Freedom award in 2016. The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, honored him with its Press Freedom Prize in 2018.

The National Press Club, the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide. The Club’s nonprofit Journalism Institute works to advance press freedom and grow journalism in the public interest.