Writing by Patrick Keddie
CAIRO: “I have been kidnapped and imprisoned, for almost sixteen months now. 500 days in prison, without committing any crime. My family are unable to negotiate my release. I am an innocent man.”
This is how an open letter from 27-year-old Egyptian photojournalist, Mahmoud Abou Zeid – also known as “Shawkan” – begins.
Shawkan was arrested on 14 August 2013, whilst photographing the forced clearance of the protest camp in support of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, Mohamed Morsi in Raba’a Al-Adaweya, Cairo.
“I have been interrogated once by the authorities since my arrest. My detention has been renewed every 45 days and I have not been charged with a single crime”, writes Shawkan.
The letter – released on 20 December – was written from Cairo’s Tora prison and is entitled “Sunset in the black hole”, referring to a tiny strip of light that comes through an iron mesh in his cell. The letter provides insights into the mental and physical struggles of Egyptian incarceration.
Shawkan is being held for 22 hours a day in a 3 x 4 metre cell, shared with 12 other men, which he describes as a “dungeon” that is “not even suitable to be a cage for animals. I sleep on the floor. Every day is the same.” Shawkan writes that he often sleeps for 13-14 hours a day and spends two hours a day outside of his cell in “a small cage under a sun that I can barely feel”.
Shawkan says that his cell is periodically searched and that his belongings are frequently scattered or stolen. He laments the lack of privacy and dignity in which 13 men have to use the bathroom in a room in which they all sleep, cook, eat, and pray.
He claims that his family is forced to wait 7-8 hours each time they arrive for their weekly visit, facing “insults and degrading treatment”.
Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote that “As Egypt prepares to elect a new parliament, the government continues to crack down on the press, forcing independent and critical voices into silence, exile, or prison.”
[Read the rest of the article published by Middle East Eye here]