CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prosecutors launched an investigation on Tuesday against a popular television satirist for allegedly insulting the president in the latest case raised by Islamist lawyers against outspoken media personalities.
Lawyer Ramadan Abdel-Hamid al-Oqsori charged that TV host Bassem Youssef insulted President Mohammed Morsi by putting the Islamist leader’s image on a pillow and parodying his speeches.
The case against Youssef comes as opposition media and independent journalists are growing increasingly worried about press freedoms under a new constitution widely supported by Morsi and his Islamist allies.
Other cases have been brought against media personalities who have criticized the president. Some of the cases have ended with charges being dropped. Morsi’s office maintains that the president has nothing to do with legal procedures against media critics.
On Tuesday, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s most widely circulated newspapers, said Morsi’s office filed a complaint accusing it of “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration.”
The paper had published a report earlier this week attributed to sources saying that Morsi was due to visit the hospital where ousted President Hosni Mubarak is receiving treatment after being injured in his prison cell. Mubarak is serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising against him.
A visit by Morsi would have enflamed public anger. The paper later updated the story to say that Morsi’s wife had only visited a relative in that hospital.
The paper said a reporter and an editor were summoned for interrogation.
A local committee of journalists and editors has called for stronger guarantees of press freedoms and a rejection of the current constitution, fearing it allows for jailing journalists under broadly-worded articles regarding media offenses.
Authorities ordered the closure of TV station “Al-Fareen” last summer after bringing its owner, Tawfiq Okasha, to trial for scathing attacks against Morsi and his Brotherhood group. Okasha had emerged as one of the most popular TV personalities of post-Mubarak Egypt by railing against the uprising that toppled Mubarak’s 29-year rule in February 2011.
Another prominent case was directed at the editor of a prominent opposition newspaper, al-Dustour, who has since stepped down. He went on trial briefly for “spreading lies” and fabricating news.
Youssef, a doctor, catapulted to fame when his video blogs mocking politics received hundreds of thousands of hits shortly after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Mubarak.
Youssef’s program is modeled after Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” where he has appeared as a guest.
Unlike other local TV presenters, Youssef uses satire to mock fiery comments made by ultraconservative clerics and politicians, garnering him a legion of fans among the country’s revolutionaries and liberals.
Among his most popular clips are the ones where he pokes fun at the president’s speeches and decisions.
While holding a red, furry pillow with Morsi’s picture on it, Youssef satirizes Morsi’s style of speech.
“He tells us things we never knew,” he says, before wordy clips of Morsi going into detail about the day of the week and other basic facts.
“It’s October 6! Tell us when it’s Christmas!” Youssef shouts to the camera as the audience erupts in laughter and applause.
Youssef, 38, is one of Egypt’s most popular TV presenters with 1.4 million fans on Facebook and nearly 850,000 followers on Twitter, just shy of the president’s number of followers.
Also Tuesday, police said they arrested a suspect in a shooting that seriously wounded a protester in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where an open-ended sit-in protesting the Morsi regime is taking place.
According to witnesses, before dawn on Monday, gunmen shot and wounded 19-year-old Muhanad Samir, who has said he was jailed and tortured under Egypt’s former ruling military council after he witnessed the killing of another activist. Lawyers say the attacked appeared to target Samir, who is battling for his life with pellets embedded in his head.
Security officials dismiss allegations Samir was the victim of a political assassination. On Tuesday, they said they arrested the owner of a cafe in downtown Cairo who told police that he fired on the square after people manning makeshift checkpoints there searched his car and shot at him. The officials spoke anonymously in line with regulations.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.