The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO announced on Monday that Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid has been awarded the 2018 Press Freedom Prize amid objections by Cairo. Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was arrested in 2013.
He and 739 others are charged with staging “illegal gatherings and taking part in displays of force.” They were detained as security forces were dispersing a rally in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in what is now known as the “Rabaa demonstration” that took place in August 2013. Shawkan is still on trial and no ruling has yet been issued in his case.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that the “nomination of the accused was driven by a number of non-governmental organizations, including organizations dominated by the state of Qatar, which is known for its support and continuous defense of the Brotherhood terrorist group.”
It revealed that it tasked Egypt’s permanent UNESCO representative in Paris to deliver a complete file on all the charges against Shawkan. “Perhaps you have been following UNESCO, which intends to award a person who is accused of a felony, and which is supported by suspicious organizations and countries known for their support of terrorism,” parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal told the state news agency MENA on Monday.
UNESCO should not get involved in political issues, he added. “The choice of Mahmoud Abu Zeid pays tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression,” UNESCO jury president Maria Ressa said in the statement. Shawkan’s brother, Mohammed, told Asharq Al-Awsat that his award is a message of hope that concerned international organizations are aware of his case.
Despite his condemnation of the foreign ministry statement, he hoped that the local authorities will listen to his family and colleagues’ demands for his release due to his deteriorating health. He vowed that Shawkan himself will receive the prize.
The $25,000 World Press Freedom Prize was established in 1997 to honor Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian newspaper editor who was gunned down outside El Espectador’s offices in Bogota in 1986. It will be awarded on May 2 to mark World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO said.