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Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as "Shawkan", gestures behind bars during his trial on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt May 31, 2016. Zeid was arrested during a 2013 sit-in of Muslim Brotherhood supporter. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

(reuters_tickers)

By Mahmoud Mourad

CAIRO (Reuters) - The parents of an Egyptian photojournalist, whose case has been highlighted by UNESCO, hope their son will be cleared when his trial ends on Saturday, but fear he could be convicted on terrorism charges.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was detained in 2013 while taking pictures of security forces dispersing an anti-government sit-in in which hundreds of loyalists of ousted president Mohamed Mursi and several police officers were killed.

He is one of 739 people being tried together for the events of that day on charges that include membership of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, possessing firearms and murder.

If convicted, the accused could face the death penalty.

Shawkan was awarded the 2018 Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO which said his detention was a human rights abuse. Egypt criticised the decision to give an award to someone accused of serious offences.

"Since UNESCO gave him the prize and the state got angry and accused him of being a terrorist, we grew worried," Abu Zeid's mother, 62-year-old Reda Mahrous, told Reuters.

"God willing, he will be cleared, but deep inside I am scared," she said, speaking at Shawkan's modest home near the Giza pyramids. "He was holding a camera and taking pictures, not a weapon."

Officials were not available to comment but a judicial source said Egyptian courts issue their verdicts based on irrefutable evidence.

"If he is innocent, the court will announce that, but if he is guilty he will be punished," the source said.

Most of those on trial are suspected Muslim Brotherhood members, but Shawkan, 30, denies any links to the group. He says he was only doing his job as a freelance photographer covering the protest for a British-based photo agency.

The government considers the Brotherhood a terrorist group, something the organisation denies. Cairo has defended the way the protest was cleared, saying it had given protesters the opportunity to leave peacefully and that armed elements within the Brotherhood initiated the violence.

Rights groups accuse Sisi's government of a sweeping crackdown on journalists and dissent, with Amnesty International saying the mass trial "beggars belief".

(Editing by Sami Aboudi and Robin Pomeroy)

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Reuters