Abou Zeid, a freelance photographer known as Shawkan, was detained while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi during the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba'a Al-Adawiya in Cairo, according to news reports. He was first held in a Cairo stadium with other protesters and foreign correspondents who were released the same day.
Abou Zeid contributed to the U.K.-based citizen journalism site and photo agency Demotix and the digital media company Corbis. After his detention, Demotix sent a letter to the Egyptian authorities confirming that Abou Zeid had been covering the clashes for the agency, the photographer's brother, Mohamed Abou Zeid, told CPJ.
In September 2013, the Egyptian general prosecutor's office extended the journalist's pretrial detention, Mohamed, his brother, told CPJ. Mohamed told CPJ in 2014 that Abou Zeid's lawyer and the legal team at the Arab Network for Human Rights Information had appealed for his release. The appeal was denied.
On May 14, 2015, Abou Zeid appeared before a judge for the first time since his arrest, according to news reports. The judge renewed his pretrial detention, according to the Freedom for Shawkan campaign. The journalist, whose lawyer was not present in court, told the judge about his arrest and denied the allegations against him.
In September 2015, after more than two years of pretrial detention, Abou Zeid's case was referred to a Cairo criminal court for trial. The photographer was charged with weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder, and attempted murder, according to court documents. The trial was ongoing in late 2017, and included more than 700 defendants. Between his 2013 arrest and October 2017, the journalist has had 64 court hearings, including 19 in 2017, according to the Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media. His brother told CPJ that scheduled hearings are regularly postponed.
During a trial session on October 8, 2016, the prosecution aired footage of anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012 as evidence against the defendants, Shawkan's lawyer, Taher Abou Nasr, told CPJ. None of the footage shown was of the Raba'a sit-in where Abou Zeid was arrested.
Abou Zeid is being held at Tora Prison. He has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and his health has deteriorated in prison, the journalist's family told CPJ.
In December 2016, Shawkan's lawyer demanded the journalist’s release on health grounds and requested a forensic medical examination, his brother told CPJ. The forensic report, which prosecutors presented during a May 20, 2017 court hearing, said that Shawkan does not suffer from any health conditions and does not qualify for early release, his brother said.
When Abou Zeid’s father visited him in prison on October 19, 2017, the journalist told him he is suffering from blurry vision, shivers, insomnia, and loss of appetite, Abou Zeid’s brother told CPJ. Abou Zeid told his father the prison doctor recommended that he be given a blood transfusion, but his request to be transferred to a hospital was denied.
The journalist was a recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2016.
Abou Zeid wrote a letter to mark his 600th day in jail in April 2015. The letter described the abuse he has suffered since his arrest and urged advocacy on behalf of detained journalists in Egypt. In another letter, published on the local news website Mada Masr on September 24, 2017, Abou Zeid wrote about how the prison’s policy of banning phones has left him and the other prisoners feeling isolated.