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U.S. says free speech 'stifled' as Egypt satirist is investigated

April 01, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef, center, arrives at the high court in Cairo on Sunday.
Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef, center, arrives at the high court… (Khaled Elfiqi / European…)

The U.S. has “concerns that freedom of expression is being stifled” in Egypt after the questioning of an irreverent television satirist frequently compared to American comedian Jon Stewart, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.

Comedian Bassem Youssef appeared Sunday for questioning before a government prosecutor on charges of defiling Islam and defaming President Mohamed Morsi. He was released the same day on bail.

“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,” Nuland said at a news briefing.

She said that whereas the Egyptian government pursues cases like Youssef's, “it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December” and other alleged police abuses.

“There does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here,” she said.

Youssef routinely satirizes Morsi as “a pharaoh prone to verbal gaffes,” dubbing him “Super Morsi” after he gave himself sweeping powers last year, The Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman wrote Sunday. The defamation case has made headlines worldwide as rights activists raise concerns about freedom of speech under Morsi and his government.

Late Monday, Youssef tweeted that he would face a new investigation for “spreading rumors and disturbing the ‘Peace’ ” because of a recent episode of his show. The Associated Press reported that the complaint was forwarded to the Egyptian state security prosecutor Monday.

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