Renowned Egyptian news photographer Shawkan released from prison

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, was arrested while covering a crackdown on anti-military protests in 2013.

    Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan, was accused of 'murder and membership of a terrorist organisation' [Reuters]
    Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan, was accused of 'murder and membership of a terrorist organisation' [Reuters]

    Award-winning Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, has been released in his country after more than five years in prison.

    The photographer, who was arrested while covering a crackdown on anti-military protests back then, was freed on Monday.

    He posted a picture on his Twitter with the hashtag "hello asphalt", a phrase used by Egypt's political prisoners when they get freed.

    "He was released at 6am (04:00 GMT) from the Al-Haram police station (near the Giza pyramids) and is currently at home," his lawyer Taher Aboul Nasr told the AFP news agency.  

    Shawkan was arrested in August 2013 while covering clashes between security forces and supporters of the overthrown President Mohamed Morsi that turned into a bloodbath in which hundreds of demonstrators died.

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    The photojournalist was jailed and put on trial along with 739 defendants, most of them charged with killing police and vandalising property.

    It was one of the largest mass trials since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.    

    In September, an Egyptian court upheld death sentences of 75 defendants and gave Shawkan a five-year jail term, which covered the time he had already served. However, he remained in jail awaiting his release.

    International condemnation

    Shawkan was accused of "murder and membership of a terrorist organisation", charges that can carry the death penalty. His arrest sparked condemnation from international rights groups, which demanded his release.

    Britain-based Amnesty International said at the time he had been convicted "simply for doing his job as a photojournalist and documenting the police brutality that took place that day". 

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    Other 214 people who were sentenced in September to five years in prison were also released on Monday.   

    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief, was elected in 2014 nearly a year after leading the military's overthrow of Morsi following mass protests against his year-long rule.

    Sisi, who critics say has carried out a widespread crackdown on dissent, was re-elected in March 2018 after securing more than 97 percent of the votes in the absence of any serious competition. 

    The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) group ranks Egypt 161st out of 180 countries on its press freedom index.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies