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Egypt says it's committed to freedom of expression

Wednesday - 4/3/2013, 11:11am  ET

FILE - In this Sunday, March 31, 2013 file photo, 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. Egypt's state Investment Authority said Tuesday, April 2, 2013 it will revoke the license of a private TV station that airs a popular satirist if he does not stop the use of "unacceptable and offensive" language. The warning comes two days after the satirist, Youssef, was questioned by prosecutors over accusations that he insulted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and Islam, and a day after the U.S. criticized the Egyptian government for a "disturbing trend" of growing restrictions on freedom of expression. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

CAIRO (AP) -- 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 presidency did not submit any complaints" to the prosecutor's office, said spokesman Omar Amer.

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.

The Obama administration has expressed concern that Egypt may be backsliding in its transition to democracy. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Washington has "real concerns about the direction Egypt appears to be moving in," adding that Egypt is at a "tipping point."

Amer denied that there was tension between Egypt and the United States.

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