Egypt’s prosecution is probing complaints of “threatening public security” against popular satirist Bassem Youssef, who is already on bail facing charges of insulting the president and offending Islam.
Judicial sources and Youssef said the public prosecutor ordered the probe on Monday following a complaint by a lawyer. The state security prosecution, which handles national security cases, will conduct the investigation.
“A new complaint against me has been referred to state security prosecution, for spreading rumours and false news, and disturbing public tranquillity after the last episode,” Youssef wrote on Twitter.
“It seems they want to drain us physically, emotionally and financially,” he added.
The prosecutor also ordered an investigation into complaints against two journalists over a television programme that discussed Youssef’s case, a source from the prosecutor’s office said.
One of the journalists, Shaimaa Aboul El Kir, who works as a Middle East consultant for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said she was being investigated for an interview in which she defended Youssef.
“I attended Youssef’s questioning and then did an intervention on television. They (the complainants) consider what I did as a ‘disturbing to public security’,” she told AFP.
Prosecutors are also investigating Jaber al-Qarmuti, the anchor El Kir spoke to on the show aired by the private television channel ONTV.
Judicial sources said Youssef was being investigated along with the head of the CBC television channel which airs his weekly programme Albernameg (The Show), which is modelled on Jon Stewart’s satirical The Daily Show.
The complaint against them appears to accuse Youssef of stoking criticism of Islamists and obliquely calling for a “civil war”.
Youssef, who regularly skewers the country’s ruling Islamists on his wildly popular show, was released on $2,200 bail on Sunday after an interrogation that lasted nearly five hours.
He was questioned on accusations of offending Islam through “making fun of the prayer ritual” and of insulting President Mohamed Morsi by “making fun of his international standing”.
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.
It also triggered concerns in the West.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that Paris was monitoring the “respect of rights” in Cairo, a day after Washington spoke of a “disturbing trend” of mounting restrictions on freedom of expression in Egypt.
“We support the democratic process in Egypt, and pay close attention to the respect of rights,” Fabius said after talks in Paris with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Kamel Amr.
“We insist on what we consider are the foundations of a pluralistic and free society. That requires guarantees for media and women’s freedoms.”
On Monday US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was “concerned” over the proceedings in the Youssef case after he was questioned and freed 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,” she said.
Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party denounced Nuland’s comments as “audacious” and a “brazen interference in Egyptian domestic affairs, especially that the case is still under investigation”.
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.
Human 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.