Imprisoned for Their Pictures

Why four photojournalists landed in jail.

Around the world, 2017 was a particularly hard year for journalists. As of December 1, a record 262 reporters, editors, and photographers were imprisoned, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Their alleged crimes? Participating in anti-government activities, spreading “false news,” and, for many local reporters and photographers, working with members of foreign media outlets. Here, four of the most prominent cases involving photojournalists currently imprisoned or recently released, but all still facing serious charges.

IMG 4950 story large


Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a freelance photojournalist who works under the pseudonym “Shawkan,” has been in prison since August 14, 2013. The then-23-year-old, on assignment for British photo agency Demotix, was arrested after covering a large sit-in at a public square in Cairo held by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. While breaking up the demonstration, Egyptian security forces killed more than 800 protesters and arrested more than 700 others.

On March 3, 2018, prosecutors requested death by hanging for the 738 protesters that had been arrested — including Shawkan. He was charged with weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, attempted murder, and membership in a banned organization (the Muslim Brotherhood, to which many of the Morsi supporters belong). According to his lawyer, Shawkan has hepatitis C but has been denied treatment in prison.

Human rights groups and advocates for the press contend Shawkan was merely doing his job as a photojournalist and have called for his release. French press-freedom organization, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), has launched a social media campaign called #MyPicForShawkan in an effort to put pressure on Egyptian authorities. A court hearing of Shawkan’s case has been postponed repeatedly. (Pictured: Shawkan, in a photograph provided by his brother, Mohamed Abou Zeid courtesy of RSF.)



Journalist and photographer Wa Lone, 31, has been detained in Myanmar along with his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, since December 12, 2017. At the time of their arrests, the two Reuters journalists were working on an investigation into the September massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Inn Din village in the restive Rakhine state where many Rohingya used to live. They obtained pictures from villagers of the Rohingya men kneeling with their hands tied right before execution, and Wa Lone took photos of a mass grave where the victims’ bodies were found.

The journalists were arrested on Dec. 12, immediately after they were invited to dine with two police officers in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. They were held for two weeks before appearing in court. The Myanmar government accused the two journalists of exposing state secrets to foreign media. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison. Last month, prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney agreed to defend the journalists. (Pictured: journalist Wa Lone arrives at his court trial in Yangon on April 4, 2018.)

Kashmiri Photojournalist Kamran Yousuf Released From NIA Custody Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images


Kashmiran freelance photojournalist Kamran Yousuf, 21, was covering an anti-India protest in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir September 2017, when he was arrested for allegedly throwing stones at police. India’s National Investigative Agency later charged him with sedition, criminal conspiracy, and attempting to wage a war against India. The National Investigative Agency, which couldn’t provide evidence for Yousuf’s alleged crimes, argued that he was not a “real journalist” because he had only photographed protests but not government initiatives that brought positive changes to Kashmir.

After being detained for six months, Yousuf was released on bail on March 13, the NIA has not dropped the charges against him, saying the photojournalist will face trial. (Pictured: Yousuf returns to his home in Tahab village of Pulwama district, South Kashmir, on March 16, 2018.)



Freelance photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan began serving a 10-year prison sentence in Bahrain in March 2014. He was arrested in December 2012 for participating in an “attack” on a police station in Sitra, an island in Bahrain; his lawyer contends that the photojournalist was documenting a demonstration as part of his coverage of the continued unrest in the country inspired by the Arab Spring.

The prison frequently denies Humaidan family visits, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the photojournalist has not received adequate treatment for a severe eye infection that developed in the prison last year. (Pictured: A Bahraini woman holds up a portrait of Humaidan during an anti-government protest in the village of Jannusan, west of the capital Manama, on Sept. 19, 2014.)