CAIRO – Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi used his self-declared legislative authority for the first time Thursday to revoke a law that required journalists charged with insulting the country’s leaders remain imprisoned until trial.
The sudden change of a decades-old law appeared to be a bid to ease fears that Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected leader, wouldn’t embrace freedom of the press.
The first beneficiary of the new law was Islam Afifi, the editor of al Dustour, a privately owned independent newspaper, who was charged with insulting the president and publishing fabrications for an article that was published Aug. 11 that some say led to sectarian fights in a Cairo suburb. Afifi made his first court appearance Thursday and was to have been detained until his Sept. 16 trial.
Afifi’s arrest had outraged many Egyptians, who said it harkened back to the days when Hosni Mubarak was in office, and it drew international criticism.
“Egypt should uphold its international obligations and ensure people are not subject to criminal prosecution for peaceful criticism, even if what they say is perceived to be offensive,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the charges against Afifi.