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UN experts condemn decision to seek death sentence against Egyptian photojournalist Abou Zeid

GENEVA (13 March 2018) – UN human rights experts strongly condemn a decision by the Egyptian prosecutor to seek the death sentence against acclaimed photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as “Shawkan”, who was arrested while covering anti-government protests.

Mr. Abou Zeid was arrested in August 2013 while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. He has been charged with weapons possession and murder, amongst others. He remains in detention. 

“Journalists and media workers covering protests should not be criminalized for their professional duties and they certainly should not be facing the death penalty for doing so,” said the UN experts.

“Calling for the death penalty after unfair procedures is unacceptable: it is a derelict of legal duties, as well as a violation of international law,” they said, adding the imposition of the death penalty under such conditions would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life. 

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected by international law for which no one should risk detention and the death sentence. It is also a collective right which empowers populations through participation and democracy.

“Egypt must ensure that journalists are able to express their views and disseminate information without fear of intimidation, harassment or prosecution of any sort. We call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release and put an end to Mr. Abou Zeid’s groundless prosecution.”

In 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended that Mr. Abou Zeid be released immediately, and awarded the right to seek compensation. 

On 26 January 2018, several UN experts called on Egypt to halt all pending executions following repeated allegations of unfair trials.


Mr. David Kaye is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Ms. Agnes Callamard is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Mr. Michel Forst is the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez is the Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact: Marina Narvaez (+41 22 917 9615/ mnarvaez@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence – (+ 41 22 917 9826 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightswww.standup4humanrights.org.