An Egyptian court remanded editor Islam Afifi in custody on Thursday as he went on trial on charges of spreading false news and inciting disorder in a case that has sparked US concern.
The judge at the Giza Criminal Court in greater Cairo ordered Afifi held until the next hearing, which he set for September 16.
Afifi, editor of the small independent Al-Dustour newspaper, is the first journalist to go on trial since the overthrow of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Speaking to AFP before he was remanded in custody, Afifi said that the trial was “political” and the charges against him “politically motivated.”
“This trial will be a real test of one of the core demands of the Egyptian revolution which was for freedom of expression,” he said.
Afifi’s case and that of television boss Tawfiq Okasha, accused of “incitement to murder” of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, prompted Washington to voice concern last week about press freedoms in post-Mubarak Egypt.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the prosecutions ran counter to the spirit of last year’s revolution.
“Freedom of the press, freedom of expression are fundamental tenets of vibrant, strong democracies. They are part and parcel of what the Egyptian people went into the streets for,” she said.
Okasha, who owns the private channel Al-Faraeen on which he hosts a controversial talk show, is known to be staunchly anti-Islamist and opposed to Morsi.
Prosecutors have banned both men from travelling abroad.
The Egyptian Press Syndicate said on Thursday that it had requested Afifi’s release. Syndicate leader Mohamed Abdel Qodus slammed the decision as detrimental to Morsi as well as to the “revolution and justice.”
And The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights also called for his release saying that his trial “runs counter to the new Egypt which has an elected president and where there is a commitment to respect public liberties.”
Thursday’s hearing came on the eve of protests against Morsi called by secular activists.
It also came after the president got the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated upper house of parliament to name new editors-in-chief for state media that had been hostile to him and the once-banned Islamist movement.
Several independent newspapers published blank editorial columns on August 9 to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood’s encroachment on press freedoms.
“This section remains blank in protest over the Brotherhood’s attempt to control the media and press which belong to the Egyptian people,” wrote Al-Watan which, along with Al-Tahrir and Al-Masry Al-Youm, did not publish editorials on that date.
The authorities on August 12 ordered copies of Al-Dustour seized after complaints that they contained remarks deemed insulting to Morsi, a move Afifi denounced as an attack on press freedoms.