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Jailed Egypt photographer says he's been 'forgotten'
Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abdel Shakour, known as Shawkan, gestures from inside a soundproof glass dock, during his trial in the capital Cairo on August 9, 2016, Shawkan had been covering the police dispersal of an Islamist protest camp in Cairo when he was arrested and has been in prison ever since. Thousands of Islamists remain in prison in a wideranging crackdown that has extended to leftists and even journalists like Shawkan. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP.

by Haitham El-Tabei

CAIRO (AFP).- Shouting to make himself heard from the soundproof glass dock during a break in his trial, Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abdel Shakour said he feels he has been "forgotten" in prison.

Three years ago, Abdel Shakour -- known as Shawkan -- had been covering the police dispersal of an Islamist protest camp in Cairo when he was arrested, and he has been in jail ever since.

August 14, 2013 was the bloodiest day in Egypt's modern history, and one of the deadliest in the region since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Hundreds of Islamists supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi, toppled by the military in July that year, were mowed down by police in clashes. About 10 policemen were killed.

Three years later, thousands of Islamists remain in prison after a wide-ranging crackdown that has extended to leftists and even journalists like Shawkan.

Shawkan had been photographing the carnage that day for the Demotix photo agency when he was arrested. Three journalists, including Sky News cameraman Michael Deane, were shot dead in the violence.

The photographer spent months in pre-trial detention before he was put on trial along with hundreds of other defendants over the protest.

"I feel like I've been forgotten in prison," Shawkan, 29, told an AFP reporter during a break at a recent court session, yelling through the glass barrier to make himself heard.

"I feel despair, and powerless. Time is flying by while I'm in jail."

He is imprisoned in a poorly ventilated cell which becomes scorching hot in summer.

"My hope diminishes every day," he said, adding that he missed being able to look at the sky.

Sitting on his bed back home, next to a framed picture of her son, Shawkan's mother Reda Mahrous said she has trouble getting to sleep.

"I feel oppression and injustice," she said, wearing a green bracelet that her son made her in prison.

"Every day I make his bed, and wait for a knock on the door to see him before me. But it never happens."

'No evidence'
Shawkan and his 738 co-defendants are accused of involvement in the killings of policemen and resisting the authorities during the protest dispersal.

If convicted, they will face the death penalty.

"There is no evidence against him. To the contrary, there is evidence proving he was working as a freelance photographer," said his lawyer Karim Abdel Rady.

The photographer has won two awards this year, including one from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"I wanted to be happy but I couldn't. Give me my freedom and take the prize," Shawkan said.

He suffers from Hepatitis C, which is common in Egypt, and his family says he needs treatment that is not available in prison.

Shawkan was detained as part of a crackdown against Egyptian journalists, rights activists say.

His co-defendant Abdullah Elshamy, a journalist with Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, was released and left the country after a long hunger strike.

Rights groups say President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government has tried to repress all opposition since the former army chief led the overthrow of Morsi.

Fears of restrictions on press freedoms heightened after the head of the Journalists' Syndicate and two aides were put on trial for harbouring wanted men -- including a reporter -- in the union's headquarters.

They had been sought by police for alleged involvement in April protests against a deal to give Saudi Arabia two islands.

"It's the worst era for someone to be a journalist in Egypt," said Sherif Mansour, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Egypt provoked international condemnation when it arrested three Al-Jazeera reporters, including an Australian and a Canadian, in late 2013 and put them on trial.

They were sentenced to jail terms but were later pardoned by Sisi after a lengthy international campaign, and have since left the country.

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

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