Head of the Press Syndicate’s Freedoms Committee Khaled El-Balshy announced in a press conference Sunday that photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zied, also known as Shawkan, is considering going on hunger strike in the next few days.
El-Balshy said Shawkan’s decision came as a sign of protest against his continued detention, despite having exceeded the pre-trial detention limit. El-Balshy told Daily News Egypt that Shawkan has already begun a partial hunger strike.
“We are trying to convince him not to go on hunger strike, because it would be quite dangerous given his already poor health condition,” says El-Balshy.
Defence lawyer Ahmed Abdel Naby said Shawkan has temporarily retreated from his decision to embark on a full hunger strike, amid speculations that he might be released in the coming days.
“Shawkan is thinking about going on hunger strike, because his fate remains unknown and his detention lacks legitimacy,” says Abdel Naby. “By going on a [hunger] strike, he would be peacefully protesting the ongoing intransigence practiced against him by the state.”
Abdel Naby added that the state is currently violating its own laws, and that the defence team will submit a memorandum demanding Shawkan’s release.
“At the beginning of his detention, Shawkan held the belief that there is rule of law, but as the two years in detention passed by, that belief diminished, until it vanished completely as he found himself illegally detained,” recounts Abdel Naby.
On Monday, Shawkan marked his 17th day behind bars under illegal conditions after passing the two-year threshold of the pre-trial detention period. On 14 August, he 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.
There has, until now, been no confirmation regarding whether Shawkan has been referred to court in the “Rabaa sit-in dispersal” case.
Based on the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression’s (AFTE) report regarding Shawkan’s legal status, the referral of the case to a criminal court does not prevent the applicability of the pre-trial detention limit.
Article 4 of Law 143 of the Code of Criminal Procedures only gives the court authorisation to extend detention indefinitely in the case where a verdict has already been issued, and the verdict is a life sentence or a death penalty.
Since Shawkan’s case is still in the first phase of court trial, with the detainee already having spent the maximum period in pre-trial detention, the abovementioned article under Law 143 does not apply to this case. The court should, therefore, release Shawkan immediately, according to AFTE’s report.
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.
Two weeks ago, the Cairo Appeals Court refused to receive an official demand from Shawkan’s lawyers for his release after exceeding the maximum pre-trial detention. The court insisted that it cannot receive the file prior to first receiving the documents for the case in which Shawkan was detained.
The Press Syndicate had earlier voiced its demand for Shawkan’s release to the prosecution, the president, and the cabinet. According to El-Balshy, the demands were submitted, firstly, because Shawkan has exceeded his detention limit, and secondly, because it is unclear whether he has been referred to court.
International rights group 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.”