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Egypt criticises UNESCO's 'intention' to award Shawkan press freedom prize

Ahram Online , Sunday 22 Apr 2018
Photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, mimics snapping a photo from behind bars in the capital Cairo on August 9, 2016. (Photo:AFP)

Egypt's foreign ministry has expressed its regret at what it says is UNESCO's intention to award a press freedom prize to Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, who has been in detention since 2013.

Shawkan, 31, is a freelance photojournalist who was arrested in August 2013 while covering the dispersal of the Rabaa El-Adawiya sit-in in Cairo, where supporters of ex-president Mohamed Morsi had gathered to protest his ouster.

The statement by ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said he had been accused of “terrorism offences and criminal offences, which include murder, attempted murder, assault on police and citizens, and the burning and destruction of public and private property.

Abu Zeid said that the ministry had been informed of UNESCO's intention to grant Shawkan this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.  

"We warn against the politicisation of UNESCO and its involvement in the implementation of the agenda of certain countries, while drifting away from its cultural mission," the statement read.

Abu Zeid added that the ministry had asked the permanent representative of Egypt to UNESCO in Paris to pass a complete file on all the charges attributed to Shawkan to the secretariat of the UN body.

"The nomination of Shawkan was motivated by a number of non-governmental organisations, including organisations driven by the state of Qatar that are known for their support of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organisation and their continuing attempt to defend the group," the statement read.

UNESCO has not made public statements about those nominated for this year’s prize, which is awarded annually on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.

Every year the UN body invites the governments of member states and international or regional NGOs that are active in the field of press freedom to nominate candidates for the prize, which honours “a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and, or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.”

This month international NGO Reporters Sans Frontiers began a campaign in solidarity with Shawkan on Twitter.

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