Cairo: Egypt’s most popular television comedian was questioned on Sunday by the Egyptian prosecutors as he is facing the charges of insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsi. Critics consider this case as a series of crackdowns on dissent.
The prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant of the comedian, Bassem Youssef, on Saturday and he appeared before the court today. However, he was released on bail of $2,200.
Youssef rose to fame with a satirical online show after the uprising that swept autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. His program is now broadcast on television.
The comedian is accused of insulting Islam and undermining the standing of President Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood politician freely elected last June. The prosecutor general issued the warrant after at least four legal complaints filed by Morsi supporters.
The investigation has raised fears for freedom of expression in the post-Mubarak Egypt. “It is an escalation in an attempt to restrict space for critical expression,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt Director at Human Rights Watch.
It is the most high-profile of a series of similar cases brought on accusations of insulting Morsi. Two dozen such cases were brought in the first 200 days of his rule – four times as many as during Mubarak’s 30 years in power, according to human rights lawyer, Gamal Eid.
Prominent liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei commented that it is the kind of action only seen under “fascist regimes.” “It is the continuation of the failed and ugly moves to thwart the revolution,” he wrote on Twitter.
Morsi has hardened his tone in response to recent violent protests against him and the Brotherhood. After promising a week ago to take steps to protect the nation, Morsi vowed on Tuesday to “break the neck” of anyone who throws a petrol bomb.
The unrest is frustrating efforts to revive the economy.
Youssef was questioned after the prosecutor general issued five arrest warrants last week for prominent political activists accused of inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled Morsi to power in last year’s election.
The United States, which supplies $1.3-billion in military aid to Egypt each year, expressed concern last week over reports that arrest warrants had been issued for political activists.
US State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that the US government is also concerned this case is being investigated while others, including cases where protesters were attacked outside Morsi’s palace in December or cases of “extreme police brutality” had “not been appropriately investigated.”
Opposition figures said that the prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim, is biased towards Morsi, who appointed him last November, and they want him removed from office.
A court ruled last week that Ibrahim’s appointment is illegal and that he must step down. Ibrahim, who denies any bias, plans to appeal against the ruling.