A Cairo appeals court refused Tuesday to receive an official demand from lawyers for detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, for his release after exceeding the maximum pre-trial detention period.
The court insisted that it cannot receive the file prior to first receiving the documents for the case in which Shawkan has been detained, according to his lawyer Ahmed Abdel Nabi.
“His fate is currently unknown to us,” Abdel Nabi said, speaking of how Shawkan’s defence team view the case.
Since Shawkan has not been referred to trial, his lawyers and family had anticipated his release. Such hopes came as just last week, a court ordered the release of Al-Wasat Party chairman Abou El-Ela Mady pending trial after having fulfilled the legal pre-trial detention time.
On 14 August, Shawkan completed two years in Tora Prison since his arrest in 2013 while covering the violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya.
The law states that a pre-trial detention period can last a maximum of two years for crimes with strict penalties, such as death sentences or life imprisonment. Until now, there is no confirmation regarding whether Shawkan has been referred to court in the “dispersing Rabaa sit-in” case.
“A referral order was issued last week, but there is no confirmation on whether Shawkan is a defendant in the case. The prosecution told us that it sent the documents to the court,” Abdel Nabi said.
The next step for the defence lawyers will be sending the release demand to be served officially to the court and to the prosecutor general by bailiff.
According to Abdel Nabi, the case’s ambiguity and the lack of information is unprecedented in comparison to previous cases involving detained journalists.
The defence lawyer explained that he believes the obstinacy in Shawkan’s case is not about his person, but that he is detained in a case in which many Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members have been charged.
Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the continuation of Shawkan’s detention saying: “The decision to extend the detention of Shawkan until the criminal court sets a date for the trial is disgraceful and a blatant violation of international human rights standards.”
The director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme Said Boumedouha said that the extension of Shawkan’s detention “contravenes the Egyptian constitution and national law which limits pre-trial detention to an already prolonged period of two years if the detainee is not sentenced within that period”.