Egypt court hands five-year jail term to prominent photojournalist

Mahmoud Abu Zaid, a photojournalist known as Shawkan smiles inside a cage in an Egyptian Court in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday Sept. 8, 2018. (AP)
Updated 08 September 2018
0

Egypt court hands five-year jail term to prominent photojournalist

  • Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 as he covered deadly clashes in Cairo between security forces and supporters of ousted Islamist president Muhammad Mursi
  • Shawkan’s detention sparked outrage among human rights groups and NGOs who lobbied continuously for his release

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Saturday handed a five-year jail sentence to prominent photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, who earlier this year received UNESCO’s World Freedom Prize.
Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 as he covered deadly clashes in Cairo between security forces and supporters of ousted Islamist president Muhammad Mursi.
He was accused of “murder and membership of a terrorist organization” — charges that can carry the death penalty — but should be able to walk free after already having spent five years in jail.
Shawkan should be able to leave prison “within a few days,” his lawyer Karim Abdelrady said as he welcomed the verdict.
But the lawyer added that the sentence was nevertheless “unfair because he (Shawkan) was only doing his job” and covering the events unfolding in the Egyptian capital five years ago.
Shawkan’s detention sparked outrage among human rights groups and NGOs who lobbied continuously for his release.
On Thursday, Amnesty International and press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) held a joint rally outside the Egyptian embassy in Paris to demand that he be set free.
At the time, Amnesty put out a statement warning Egyptian judicial authorities: “The world is watching you.”
RSF ranks Egypt 161st out of 180 countries on its press freedom index and says that at least 31 journalists are currently detained in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Shawkan was one of more than 700 defendants on trial in the same case, most of them facing charges of killing police and vandalising property during the clashes.
The same court that jailed him also confirmed on Saturday death sentences initially issued in July against 75 defendants, including leaders of Mursi’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
They include senior Brotherhood members Mohamed el-Baltagui, Issam Al-Aryan and Safwat Hijazi.
Of the 75 defendants, 44 were in the dock while the rest were tried in absentia.
On August 14, 2013, one of the bloodiest days in Egypt’s modern history, a month after the army ousted Mursi, police moved to disperse a sprawling Islamist protest camp at Rabaa Al-Adawiya square in Cairo.
About 700 people were killed within hours at Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square where another sit-in was being held.
Hundreds more were killed in street clashes with police over the months that followed and mass arrests were made.
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say at least 40,000 people were arrested in the first year after Mursi’s ouster on July 3, 2013.
Egypt’s courts have sentenced hundreds of them to death or lengthy jail terms after speedy mass trials, that the human rights group said made a mockery of due process.
They include Mursi and several leaders of his Brotherhood movement.


How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

A Nepalese roadside vendor reads the news in Kathmandu, Nepal, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
0

How new criminal laws threaten Nepal journalism

  • The codes prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them

KATMANDU, Nepal: Journalists in Nepal are demanding changes to new criminal and civil codes they say undermine freedom of speech and expression.
The laws that took effect last month are general codes of conduct that apply to all citizens of Nepal, but press freedom groups say harsher sentences for libel and privacy violations are having a chilling effect on journalists in the small Himalayan country. Here are some details:
WHY THE NEW LAWS CAME ABOUT
Nepal’s new civil and criminal codes are the result of a new constitution adopted in 2015. Nepalese lawmakers had three years to design a set of laws that prescribe how the constitution should be interpreted. The codes cover everything from stipulating the legal age of marriage to enshrining property rights and describe how each civil violation or crime can be punished.
WHY THEY ARE CONTROVERSIAL
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. But provisions of the new codes appear to limit these freedoms, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Nepal’s new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom,” program coordinator Steven Butler said in a statement. For example, the codes make criticizing the president or members of Parliament criminal acts. The codes also prohibit publishing private information, including of officials, ban recording without permission and require photographers to obtain permits in order to take pictures and sell and publish them. The codes say that authorities can detain suspects for up to 40 days while investigating criminal charges. “Now journalists will be first detained and treated like murder suspects even before they are tried or given a chance to clarify,” said Ramesh Bistra, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, which has vowed to fight for the codes to be amended. The codes also ban satire, which in Nepal has been a prominent feature in the press and a popular form of protest throughout the country’s changing forms of government — from monarchy to autocratic rule to constitutional monarchy to the republic established in 2007.
CHILLING EFFECT
Press freedom groups say the language of the laws is broad enough to be used as a tool to attack journalists and deter them from doing their work. The four sections on privacy and defamation decree sentences of up to three years in prison and $260 in fines. Previously, journalists could be fined up to $217 for libel. “These new laws have created an environment of fear for the journalists and more and more of them are now practicing self-censorship,” said Taranath Dahal, who heads the Freedom Forum, a Nepal-based media rights group.
GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE
In response to journalists’ protests, the Nepalese government has formed a committee to recommend changes to the codes’ language. This committee, with representatives from several media rights groups and unions, has been given 45 days to come up with recommendations. The government, however, is not obliged to follow them. Even if the government accepts the changes, lawmakers would have to draft amendments, which would then have to be debated in Parliament before changes could be made. This could take months if not years in Nepal. Until then, the controversial new codes remain in effect.