CAIRO – Egypt's prosecutors referred to trial Sunday the country's former Islamist president on charges of insulting the judiciary and defaming its members to spread hate-- the fourth case filed against Mohammed Morsi since his July ouster, the state news agency reported.
Morsi is already facing three separate trials on various charges, including inciting the murder of his opponents, conspiring with foreign groups and organizing jailbreaks-- all of which can carry the death penalty. Only one case has opened and it is due to resume next month.
The new case includes 24 other politicians, media personalities, activists and lawyers, accused in separate incidents of insulting the judiciary in public, on television or on social media websites over the past three years. They include some of Egypt's prominent youth activists, including Alaa Abdel-Fattah, former lawmaker Mostafa el-Naggar, and liberal former lawmaker Amr Hamzawy as well as rights lawyer Amir Salem.
The referral also include figures who were at odds with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, such as TV personality Tawfiq Okasha, known for lambasting revolutionary groups, the military, and the Brotherhood. The offense is punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine, or both.
Lawyer Ahmed Seif said the referral is an early test to Egypt's newly adopted charter, which bars imprisonment in libel or slander cases.
"This is putting society in a very early state of contradictions, with an article in the charter that goes against an existing law. What do we do?" Seif said.
The charter states that the law should regulate the punishment if the defamation involves incitement or dishonoring individuals.
Egypt's state news agency said the referral of Morsi dates back to his time in office, when he named a judge in a public speech and accused him of bearing responsibility for fraud carried out in previous elections. At the time, the judge was presiding over a case reviewing corruption charges against former regime officials. The referral said Morsi's speech would have influenced the judge's work in the case and witnesses.
The televised speech came at the height of a tense standoff between Morsi and the core of Egypt's over 13,000 judges and prosecutors, who accused the Islamist president and his Muslim Brotherhood group of meddling in their affairs and seeking to replace judges with their loyalists. The judiciary was in an uproar over Morsi's appointment of a chief prosecutor without consulting with them, one they said was beholden to the president.
The standoff led to major protests by judges and other activists-- and threats of partial court strikes. Morsi and the Brotherhood charged that judges loyal to the former regime were obstructing his moves to reform the institution.
Since the 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, reforming the judiciary has been a major demand of protesters and activists, highlighted in a string of trials of former officials for corruption and violence against civilians. The increased public scrutiny pushed judges and public prosecutors to file hundreds of complaints over alleged defamation.