U.S. blasts arrest warrant against Egypt satirist

Apr 01, 2013, 6:12 PM EDT
A bodyguard secures popular Egyptian television satirist Bassem Youssef, who has come to be known as Egypt's Jon Stewart, as he enters Egypt's state prosecutors office to face accusations of insulting Islam and the country's Islamist leader in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, March 31, 2013.
(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — The U.S. State Department said Monday that arrest warrants and the investigation of a popular Egyptian satirist and other critics of Egypt's Islamist president highlight a "disturbing trend" of growing restrictions on freedom of expression in the country.

The strongly worded statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Monday came a day after Bassem Youssef, who criticizes President Mohammed Morsi and hard-line clerics on his Jon Stewart-style show, was released on bail following an interrogation into accusations he insulted Morsi and Islam.

Youssef is the most prominent critic of Morsi to be called in for questioning in recent weeks, in what the opposition says is a campaign to intimidate critics amid wave after wave of political unrest in the deeply polarized country. Prosecutors deny launching a political crackdown, saying they are only implementing the law.

Youssef's questioning followed arrest warrants against five prominent anti-government activists accused of inciting violence. Nuland said the administration is also concerned that the Egyptian government has "been slow" or didn't "adequately" investigate cases of attacks against anti-Morsi protesters, journalists and police brutality.

"So there does not seem to be an even handed application of justice here," she said. A spokesman for the Egyptian presidency had no immediate comment on the statement.

The arrest warrants, Nuland added, show "evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression."

On Monday, Egypt's top prosecutor forwarded a new complaint against the chief executive officer of the private TV station that airs Youssef's program to the country's state security prosecutor for investigation. The complaint accuses him and the satirist of helping spread sedition and disturbing the peace by airing the political satire program, a judicial official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.