The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed deep regret over the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s honouring of the photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, known as Shawkan, who has been in pre-trial detention since 2013.
The ministry said that it was informed that the UNESCO is seeking to grant Shawkan the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and denounced the consideration of the photojournalist for the award.
“We deeply regret the involvement of UNESCO in honouring a person accused of terrorist acts and criminal offenses, that include deliberate murder, assaulting police and citizens, and destruction of public and private property,” the ministry said.
Shawkan was arrested while photographing the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-ins that were organised in 2013 to support Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime. He is involved in the case known as “Rabaa dispersal” that includes the trial of 739 defendants. He is the only journalist among the defendants.
His lawyers claimed before court that he was on duty covering the events when security forces stormed Rabaa Square in Nasr City to disperse the large brotherhood sit-in, which followed the ousting of the brotherhood-affiliated president Morsi.
The ministry said that it assigned Egypt’s permanent delegate to the UNESCO in Paris to hand over the secretariat a report regarding all the accusations levelled against Shawkan, which all are purely criminal in nature and irrelevant to the practice of the profession of the press or freedom of expression.
“Granting defendant Shawkan the [Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize] is a disregard for the rule of law and the proceedings taken against a defendant accused of crimes,” the ministry said, adding that the UNESCO needs a comprehensive and serious review of its working methods during the next phase under the new chairpersonship of the organisation.
The Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was established by the UNESCO’s executive board in 1997 in honour of Guillermo Cano, a Colombian journalist who died while exercising his profession. Its winner will be announced in May.