The trial of the head of a television channel in Egypt began on Saturday, with the journalist denying charges that he called for the murder of President Mohamed Morsi during a programme he presents.
Tawfiq Okasha is the head of Al Faraeen channel which was suspended after broadcasting a programme which was deemed highly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood government.
Now being tried for incitement, Okasha said: “I merely criticised President Morsi.”
“This is a political trial. The Muslim Brotherhood wants to silence all dissent and reproduce the system from before the revolution," he argued
The presenter suggested that he was facing charges for “revealing the Brotherhood's involvement in attacks on police stations, courts and prisons during the revolution" in 2011.
When Okasha arrived at the court, supporters had gathered to chant: “The people want Al Faraeen.”
The journalist’s defence focused on the fact that the charges against him were not filed personally by Morsi, and the court established that the next session of the trial will take place on October 3.
Okasha has been banned from leaving the country since his detention in August.
Editors under detention
Okasha’s case began at the same time as another against Islam Afifi, the editor of a small independent newspaper, Al Dustour, who faced allegations of spreading incorrect news and inciting disorder.
After spending several hours in custody on the day of his trial, Afifi was freed following the adoption of a decree signed by Morsi which eradicated preventative detention for alleged publishing crimes.
Afifi was the first journalist to go on trial since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Both journalists were hit with a travel ban in early August as investigations into their alleged wrongdoing began.
Concerns have been raised in recent months over apparent attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to control the Egyptian media
Following his inauguration in June, Morsi has instructed the upper house of parliament to appoint new editors-in-chief for state media outlets, many of which had been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood prior to his election.
Local journalists have spoken out against the restriction of media freedom, and international watchdogs and officials have also highlighted the issue.
Spokesman for the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Sherif Eltman said: “We’re seeing an escalation (in pressure) by those affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood against freedom of expression in Egypt. They’re using some of the same techniques to repress the media as Mubarak.”
Three independent newspapers carried blank spaces instead of editorials earlier last month, in protest against the growing control exerted by the government.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has previously said that the prosecutions of Okasha and Afifi ran counter to the spirit of last year's revolution.
Reporters Without Borders, which currently ranks Egypt as 160th of 179 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, has also highlighted the importance of guaranteeing an independent media in protecting the values of democracy. Despite Afifi’s release representing a step forwards, the watchdog is still worried about the direction in which the country is moving in terms of freedom of expression.
Source: AFP, DCMF