Egypt satirist Bassem Youssef freed on bail

CAIRO, March 31, 2013 (AFP)

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef was released on bail on Sunday after nearly five hours of questioning over alleged insults to the president and religion, highlighting concerns over freedom of expression in post-revolt Egypt.

Youssef, whose weekly programme Albernameg (The Show) has pushed the boundaries of local television with its merciless critique of those in power, was ordered to pay 15,000 Egyptian pounds (around $2,200) pending investigation into the complaints, judicial sources told AFP.

On Twitter, Youssef confirmed the bail conditions, saying they were for three lawsuits. He said no date has yet been set for questioning into a fourth legal complaint.

On Sunday morning, Youssef continued to challenge the authorities even as he arrived at the prosecutor’s office.

He made his way through a throng of cameras and supporters, to pose with an enormous version of a hat worn by President Mohamed Morsi earlier this month when he received an honorary doctorate from a university in Pakistan.

Youssef had worn the hat on his show a week earlier.

The heart surgeon turned comedian took to Twitter during his questioning, at one point saying: “The officers and the prosecution lawyers want to have their photo taken with me. Maybe that’s the reason for my summons?”

The public prosecutor on Saturday issued an arrest warrant for Youssef, who has more than 1.2 million Twitter followers, following several legal complaints against him relating to the material used on the show.

He is accused of offending Islam through “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.

He now joins the ranks of several colleagues in the media who face charges of insulting the president.

The soaring number of legal complaints against journalists has cast doubt on Morsi’s commitment to freedom of expression — a key demand of the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Under Egypt’s legal system, complaints are filed to the public prosecutor, who decides whether there is enough evidence to refer the case to trial.

Suspects can be detained during this stage of investigation.

Rights lawyers say there have been four times as many lawsuits for insulting the president under Morsi than during the entire 30 years that Mubarak ruled.

Last week, an arrest warrant was issued for blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah for inciting unrest, while prosecutors said they would investigate three other high profile television hosts — Lamees al-Hadidi, Amr Adeeb and Youssef al-Husseini — over incitement.

Fans have rallied to Youssef’s defence on social media and opposition figures slammed the arrest as intimidation.

“Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality,” leading dissident and former UN watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter.

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