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Egypt to try journalists for defaming, insulting the president

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, for CNN
updated 8:29 PM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
Islam Afifi, editor of the Egyptian El-Dustour newspaper, is accused of spreading false rumors.
Islam Afifi, editor of the Egyptian El-Dustour newspaper, is accused of spreading false rumors.
  • Tawfiq Okasha owns the al-Faraeen TV channel and is a host
  • Islam Afifi is editor of the al-Dustour newspaper
  • Both men are prohibited from leaving Egypt while they are under investigation

Cairo (CNN) -- Egyptian journalists Tawfiq Okasha and Islam Afifi will be tried for defaming and insulting President Mohamed Morsy, a spokesman said Monday.

Okasha, who owns the al-Faraeen TV channel and is also a show host, faces the charge of defamation and is accused of "inciting to kill" the president, according to Adel Saeed, spokesman for the general prosecutor's office.

Afifi, who is editor of the al-Dustour newspaper, was referred to the court for "spreading false information and rumors that threaten the security and stability of the nation" and for insulting Morsy, the spokesman said.

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A date was not immediately announced for the trial, which will be watched closely by those looking for signs of what the future of press freedom will be under the new president, who took office in June.

The two journalists were summoned to the prosecutor's office for questioning, but neither appeared, according to the spokesman.

Afifi, speaking by phone to 25TV, said he had not been summoned.

Over the weekend, prosecutors imposed a travel ban on the two journalists, prohibiting them from leaving Egypt while they are under investigation, Saeed said.

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Authorities have already moved to limit the output of their outlets.

They ordered copies of al-Dustour to be seized and suspended Okasha's show for a month, the spokesman said.

One analyst agreed the journalists "crossed the line."

"There is a difference between critique and defaming someone's reputation, like he did with the president and many groups," Sawfat Allam, a professor of political media at Cairo University and head of a committee monitoring media coverage of elections, said about Okasha.

In one show, the TV host "insulted" the Muslim Brotherhood 58 times, Allam said. Morsy, who ran as a candidate of the Islamist organization, resigned after winning the presidential election.

Tricky game of power

Okasha has organized demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest what he describes as American meddling in internal affairs. He also protested U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit there last month.

Okasha is planning a demonstration on August 24 outside the presidential palace to demand that Morsy step down and that the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood be ended. He has said the president "must be stopped."

News of the upcoming trial came one day after Morsy shook up the country's powerful military leadership, replacing top generals and reasserting power the military claimed for itself before he took office.

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