Published — Monday 1 April 2013
Last update 2 April 2013 5:54 am
CAIRO: Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef was released on bail yesterday 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 program 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.
Yesterday 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 Muhammad 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 Mursi 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.
Bassem Youssef rose to fame after the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, with a satirical online show. His program, that has been compared to the Daily Show of US satirist Jon Stewart, is now broadcast on Egyptian TV.
The questioning of the comedian has raised fears over freedom 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.