Egypt says it’s committed to freedom of expression

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CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist government is “strongly committed” to freedom of expression, a presidential spokesman insisted Wednesday, distancing the administration from legal proceedings against a popular comedian.

The London-based Amnesty International, however, warned in a statement of an “alarming new escalation of politically-motivated judicial harassment and arrests” in Egypt.

Presidential spokesman Omar Amer said, “The presidency did not submit any complaints” to the prosecutor’s office.

The case of the comedian, questioned this week over accusations he insulted the president and Islam on his weekly TV show, has set off a wave of criticism from as far away as Washington.

Amer said President Mohammed Morsi’s office was not involved in the investigation.

“Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution, and there is a strong commitment toward it and there will be no deviation from that,” he said.

Amer’s comments echoed a statement issued by Morsi’s office late Tuesday. It said it recognizes the “importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom.”

The complaints against satirist Bassem Youssef, the statement pointed out, were filed by “citizens.” Youssef was released on bail
after questioning.

Youssef’s interrogation, as well as arrest warrants against five anti-government activists on charges of inciting unrest, have prompted Morsi’s opponents to warn of a campaign to intimidate critics.

In its statement, Amnesty said the crackdown on freedom of expression has affected 33 people in the last two weeks.