The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the restrictions imposed on award-winning Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, aka Shawkan, who was released from prison yesterday after spending over five years in jail on unfounded charges. Shawkan’s release is conditional on five years of “police observation”, meaning that he will need to spend 12 hours each day in police detention.

“The news of Shawkan’s release is a welcome one amidst the ongoing repression of press freedom and independent journalism in Egypt”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said.

“However, the restrictions imposed on Shawkan are unacceptable and a de facto extension of his jail sentence. They represent a continued violation of his rights and the rule of law and are a clear sign that Egypt is not willing to let go its grip on journalism.”

Over the past years, IPI has repeatedly called on Egypt to drop all charges against Shawkan and the at least two dozen other journalists currently held in prison in Egypt, including Al Jazeera correspondent and IPI member Mahmoud Hussein.

In a letter to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry on February 22, IPI noted that “Shawkan’s continued detention despite the recent court ruling […] raises grave doubts about the rule of law that [Egypt’s] government claims to uphold.” IPI also noted that the lack of legal proceedings in the cases of numerous journalists languishing in Egyptian prisons without charge implies that the government has no evidence against these journalists and is detaining them to silence independent media in the country.

“We also remain deeply troubled by the arbitrary detention of Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who has been in prison for over 670 days without any charges filed in the court against him,” IPI said.

Shawkan was arrested in 2013 while covering protests in Cairo’s Rabaa Adaweyya Square. As a freelancer, Shawkan worked for several photo agencies, including Demotix. When the Arab Spring reached Egypt in 2011, he began covering the protests. On August 14, 2013, the military announced an operation to clear the square, Shawkan decided to document the event. Although his brother warned him against going, he replied by saying “it is my job!”. In September 2018, an Egyptian court handed down to Shawkan a five-year jail sentence, which meant he should have been released immediately because of the time he had already served in pre-trial detention.