Abdel Maksoud was first arrested on February 19, 2014, while covering a baby shower for a woman who had been taken into custody and forced to give birth in a hospital in handcuffs, according to news reports. The woman had been arrested on accusations of participating in an anti-government protest.
Activists organized a celebration for the woman and her baby in front of their home in the Al-Zawya Al-Hamra neighborhood in Cairo, days after the mother was released from custody, according to news reports. Police stormed the celebration, and beat and arrested the participants, including Abdel Maksoud, according to news reports.
Abdel Maksoud, a photographer, was covering the celebration for the independent Masr al-Arabia news website, the outlet said. Masr al-Arabia said the journalist was charged with working for Al-Jazeera, which is banned in Egypt on the accusation that it uses its reporting to serve the interests of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The journalist has never worked for Al-Jazeera, his wife told CPJ.
After nearly a month of detention in Tora prison in Cairo, Abdel Maksoud was released on bail on March 9, 2014, and continued to work with Masr al-Arabia.
On April 15, 2014, he was arrested again while visiting his family at their house in Mit Ghamr City, north of Cairo. Abdel Maksoud’s family told reporters that police came to their house looking for the journalist, and arrested him and one of his brothers, Ibrahim. The next day, the police came back for another brother, Anas. All three were charged with setting fire to cars belonging to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s presidential campaign. The cars had been set on fire a few days before the arrest, according to news reports.
Abdel Maksoud was also charged with belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. His colleagues and friends publicly denied the accusation.
Masr al-Arabia officials said Abdel Maksoud was on assignment for them in Cairo at the time of the alleged crime. Cairo is hundreds of miles from Mit Ghamr City, where the cars were attacked.
While Abdel Maksoud and his brothers were being held in pretrial detention, a court in the city of Mansoura ordered their release on bail twice, but the Ministry of Interior appealed to keep them in custody, according to news reports citing their lawyer, Malek Al-Ghazali. The court refused the ministry’s appeal and ordered their release a third time on September 11, 2014, according to the reports.
The journalist’s family posted bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,000), but the three brothers were not released. Ten days later, on September 21, 2014, Abdel Maksoud’s family and his lawyers were told that the prosecution had brought a new case against them and that the three had been charged with participating in an illegal demonstration in Mit Ghamr, according to reports citing their lawyer.
Although the three brothers were in detention, the Mansoura Criminal Court on January 19, 2015, sentenced them in absentia to life in prison on charges of setting fire to cars and belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to news reports. Abdel Maksoud and his defense lawyer were not informed about the court session.
Sentences issued in absentia are automatically retried.
A separate conviction of illegal protest, handed down in February 21, 2015, was overturned on appeal on May 16, 2015, according to reports.
On February 26, 2017, a Mansoura court reduced Abdel Maksoud’s sentence to three years, the journalist’s wife, Omnia Magdy, told CPJ. She added that in February 2017 his lawyer asked prosecutors to allow the time that Abdel Maksoud spent in custody on a charge of which he was later cleared, to count toward his sentence, and release him in April. In May 2017, the prosecutors rejected the request, she said.
As of late 2017, no trial date had been set for Abdel Maksoud on the charge of working for Al-Jazeera.
In detention and during questioning in April 2014 , Abdel Maksoud was physically abused, according to his family and colleagues, who said police had pulled out his fingernail in an attempt to pressure him to confess. Abdel Maksoud and his lawyers have denied all of the charges against him.
As of December 1, 2017, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, which has oversight of the police and prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment about claims of jailed journalists being mistreated.
Abel Maksoud is held in Mit Ghamr prison, which is about 90 kilometers outside Cairo. He has heart problems for which he has received medical attention in custody, according to colleagues.
In September 2015, the Egyptian Journalist’s Syndicate filed a complaint to the general prosecutor against security officers who it said beat the journalist in his cell after he objected to the confiscation of his medication. Local human rights groups have also documented prolonged denial of the journalist’s visitation rights.