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Human Rights Commissioner on the awarding of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize to Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid

02.05.2018 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (2 May) on the awarding of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2018 to the detained Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan):

I am pleased that UNESCO has awarded this year’s Press Freedom Prize to the Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan. An independent international jury awarded him the prize for “his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression”.

I welcome the attention that the prize will bring to Shawkan’s case. The German Government has repeatedly expressed its profound concern on Mr Abu Zeid’s treatment by the Egyptian authorities. On 3 March 2017, the public prosecution office called for the death penalty to be handed down to all 739 defendants in the case, including Mr Abu Zeid. Prior to this, he had been remanded in custody from August 2013 to December 2016 without charges.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has qualified Mr Abu Zeid’s arrest and detention as arbitrary and contrary to the rights and freedoms laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, respect for human rights and a free civil society are basic prerequisites for social harmony and lasting stability, and also the best defence against radicalisation and extremism. I thus encourage the Egyptian authorities to create conditions in which journalists and other members of civil society can do their work unhindered – work that is important for the country.

Background information:

The freelance photojournalist and news reporter Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was arrested during a demonstration at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo in August 2013 and held on remand for over two years in breach of Egyptian law. Along with 738 other defendants, his first court hearing was on 12 December 2016.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid suffers from anaemia. On 25 February 2017, a report was presented on his deteriorating state of health, requesting that he be released from prison on health grounds. The court ordered that he be examined by a doctor. The judge ruled that the medical report did not provide grounds for an early release.

The UNESCO Press Freedom Prize is awarded each year on 2 May to mark World Press Freedom Day. This year’s award ceremony will take place in Ghana. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law”. The prize pays tribute to a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence or promotion of press freedom, especially in the face of danger. It was named in honour of Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza, who was assassinated outside the offices of his newspaper “El Espectador” in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986.

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