CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — A Cairo court today ordered the chief editor of an Egyptian newspaper detained pending trial on charges of insulting the country's president and "spreading lies."
The case against Islam Afifi of the privately owned el-Dustour daily is one of several lawsuits brought mainly by Egypt's Islamists against journalists, accusing them of inflammatory coverage and inciting the public against the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest political group.
The Cairo Criminal Court on Thursday ordered Afifi held in custody and scheduled his trial for mid-September. The development sparked anger among rights groups and the Press Syndicate called for an emergency meeting.
"Insulting the president is a vague accusation that can be easily politicized," tweeted leading youth activist Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a key role in Egypt's uprising last year.
"Tomorrow, when someone writes his opinion and calls Morsi a weak president ... he will be prosecuted for insulting the president," he added.
Another prominent case is that of TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha who was charged with instigating the murder of President Mohammed Morsi during a talk show aired on private el-Faraeen TV earlier this month.
The network was taken off the air and Okasha was banned from travel pending his trial in early September. Lawsuits have also been brought against chief editors of The Nation's Voice and The Dawn weeklies on similar accusations.
The Islamists, and especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have intensified their campaign against media they perceive as antagonistic, claiming they follow the former regime's agenda. The group feels empowered after Morsi in June became Egypt's first elected civilian president in modern history.
Afifi's el-Dustour regularly runs articles warning of alleged Brotherhood plots and conspiracies to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist Islamic state. It also has promoted an anti-Brotherhood demonstration for Friday, initially calling for the torching of Brotherhood offices but later toning down its call to "peaceful" rallies in Cairo.
The protest call also spurred public debate, especially after a Brotherhood cleric issued a religious edict saying that killing anti-Islamist protesters was permissible. The Brotherhood asked its young followers to come out on Friday to "protect" the group's offices from opposition protesters, escalating concerns of a possible showdown in Cairo.