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Egyptian photojournalist freed after over 5 years in prison

Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan. Photograph:( Agencia EFE )

Agencia EFE Cairo, Egypt Mar 04, 2019, 03.50 PM (IST)

An award-winning Egyptian photojournalist was freed on Monday after serving more than five years in prison on charges of attending an Islamist protest in 2013.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, had been in custody since August 14, 2013, when he was arrested while covering the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

"Shawkan is free," according to post on the Freedom for Shawkan Facebook page. 

Abu Zeid also posted an image celebrating his release on his own Twitter account.

The photojournalist's lawyer Taher Abu al-Nasr told EFE that Shawkan was released around 6 am from a police station in the district of al-Haram, in Giza, just outside the capital city.

Shawkan won the 2018 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, which was announced in Ghana on World Press Freedom Day on May 2.

Ahead of the official announcement, the Egyptian government had denounced UNESCO's decision, saying the charges against Shawkan were related to terrorism and not press freedoms.

The Foreign Ministry said at the time that Shawkan was accused of "terrorism offences and criminal offences, which include murder, attempted murder, assault on police and citizens, and the burning and destruction of public and private property."

After Shawkan completed his sentence, the prosecutor's office decided to extend his detention for additional six months after he failed to pay a fine for allegedly "destroying public and private property."

Shawkan's lawyer told EFE that the photojournalist would be placed on probation for another five years, meaning he will need to report to a police station each night after sunset, although those restrictions could still be adjusted by the Ministry of Interior. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists also said that he would remain under "police observation" for five years, during he which he will be required to appear at a police station daily at sunset.

Shawkan was held at al-Haram police station for about two weeks prior sign his release as he awaited permission from Egypt's National Security body to approve his release, Abu al-Nasr added without providing further details.

Shawkan has already returned home to his family in Giza, his lawyer said, while CPJ published an image of him reuniting with his parents at their home in Cairo early on Monday morning.

Several human rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International have condemned Shawkan's arrest.

Hundreds of people were killed during the 2013 sit-in, which came after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former military chief, led the ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Story highlights

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, had been in custody since August 14, 2013, when he was arrested while covering the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.