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Inquiry launched against popular Egypt TV host

Accused of jabs at Morsi in case testing freedoms

Bassem Youssef is one of Egypt’s most popular TV hosts with 1.4 million fans on Facebook.

Ahmed Omar/Associated Press

Bassem Youssef is one of Egypt’s most popular TV hosts with 1.4 million fans on Facebook.

CAIRO — 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.

A lawyer, Ramadan Abdel-Hamid al-Oqsori, accused Bassem Youssef, a TV host, of insulting President Mohammed Morsi by putting the Islamist leader’s image on a pillow and parodying his speeches.

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The case against Youssef comes as opposition media and independent journalists are 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 the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, is receiving treatment after being injured in prison. 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 inflamed public anger. The paper later updated the story to say that Morsi’s wife had visited a relative in that hospital. The paper said a reporter and an editor were interrogated.

Fame built on satire

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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 on charges of ‘‘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 Mubarak.

Youssef’s program is modeled after Jon Stewart’s ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ where he has appeared as a guest.

Unlike other local TV hosts, 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.

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