Egypt releases prominent photojournalist after 5-year term

2019-03-04 10:38
Mahmoud Abu Zaid, centre, a photojournalist known as Shawkan, is hugged by his parents at his home in Cairo, Egypt. (Amr Nabil, AP)

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, centre, a photojournalist known as Shawkan, is hugged by his parents at his home in Cairo, Egypt. (Amr Nabil, AP)

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A prominent Egyptian photojournalist was released after five years in prison and returned home on Monday to hugs from his family and friends, pledging to continue working despite having to spend the nights at a police station nearby.

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, popularly known as "Shawkan", was convicted of involvement in a 2013 sit-in protest by Islamists that was broken up by security forces in an operation that left hundreds dead.

He was taking photos at the Rabaa Square in Cairo where Muslim Brotherhood supporters had staged a sit-in that August, 2013, to denounce the ouster and detention by the military of the country's freely elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

"I was heading out to take photos. I come back to my home after five years," Shawkan told The Associated Press at his home in Cairo's neighbourhood of Giza.

His lawyer, Taher Abuel-Naser, said he was released from a police station earlier in the morning. An Egyptian court had ordered Shawkan's release last September after he had served out his term, but he remained behind bars as authorities said his release was still being processed.

Egypt under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former general, has launched an unprecedented assault on journalists in recent years, imprisoning dozens and occasionally expelling some foreign journalists.

Shawkan said he has to report to the nearest police station and spend every night there from 18:00 till 06:00. But he said he would continue working as a photojournalist. "I am not the first or the last journalist to be detained," he said.

"I feel like I was born again, I feel relieved," said his mother, Reda Mahrous. "I used to stay awake at night thinking, telling myself that Mahmoud will come back today or tomorrow."

Since 2013, el-Sissi has overseen the biggest crackdown on critics in living memory, jailing thousands of Morsi's supporters as well as some of the iconic activists behind the 2011 uprising that toppled former autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

El-Sissi has rolled back many of the freedoms won by the anti-Mubarak uprising, silenced most dissenting voices in the media and placed severe restrictions on civil society groups. The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed as a terrorist group.

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