US accuses Egypt of stifling freedom of expression
WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday voiced concern over freedom of expression in Egypt following the arrest of a comedian for allegedly insulting President Mohamed Morsi and Islam.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the detention and release of television satirist Bassem Youssef was evidence of a "disturbing trend" of mounting restrictions on freedom of expression.
Youssef, whose weekly program mercilessly critiques Egypt’s rulers, was released on Sunday and ordered to pay 15,000 Egyptian pounds (around $2,200) pending investigation into the complaints.
"We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassem Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsi," Nuland said.
"This, coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists, is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression."
Youssef is accused of offending Islam by "making fun of the prayer ritual" and of insulting Morsi by "making fun of his international standing."
Dubbed the Egyptian answer to American television's Jon Stewart, Youssef has repeatedly poked fun at those in power and became a household name in the Arab world's most populous country.
Several of Youssef's colleagues in the Egyptian media also face charges of insulting the president, casting doubt on Morsi's stated commitment to freedom of expression -- a key demand of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
"We have concerns that freedom of expression is being stifled," Nuland added. "This is something that came up when Secretary (John) Kerry was in Egypt. He raised human rights concerns, including freedom of the press, with President Morsi, and we will continue to raise these concerns."