More journalists, bloggers, musicians and other public figures are increasingly being summoned to court in an apparent crackdown on freedom of expression in Egypt and Tunisia. But they're not going without a fight.
Egyptian TV satirist Bassem Youssef, who has been compared with United States news parody show host Jon Stewart, this past week had to answer to Egyptian prosecutors over charges of insulting Islam and President Morsi. (...) Youssef still faces other, similar charges.
The fall of dictatorial regimes after the Arab Spring apparently hasn't brought about any durable guarantees for freedom of expression. On the contrary, there seems to be an offensive against free speech in North Africa - yet this is being met with resistance, and the world is looking on.
Human rights groups note an increase in court cases charging religious defamation. Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy cited an offensive targeting 33 activists, bloggers and politicians over the past few weeks. This represents increasing "judicial harassment" of those leveling political or societal critique, Eltahawy told DW.
This comes despite the new Egyptian constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression. Clauses about defamation opened a legal grey area that certain forces are trying to exploit to muzzle criticism, also in the form of satire.
Eltahawy pointed out that many of the legal challenges are filed by regular individuals or Islamist lawyers. Slander of political figures and denigration of religious values are the primary charges.
But the state prosecution has ultimate say in the matter, Eltahawy added. "They can make the decision not to press charges, not to refer the matters to court," she said. Though it should be defending free speech, instead "the public prosecutor is increasingly charging individuals for freely expressing themselves," Eltahawy said.(...)
Not without a fight
But attempts to gag freedom of expression are facing resistance. Eltahawy described a local outcry and demonstrations of support for those facing charges for their critical opinions. "People didn't take to the streets to ask for an end of repression and tolerance for dissent, to only be faced with this again now," she explained.
A support committee has been established for persecuted rapper Weld El 15, while the "Graffiti is not a crime" group on Facebook is drumming up support for Zwewla. And when Youssef and other prominent entertainers are brought in for questioning, their court appearances are accompanied by masses of supporters.
Meanwhile, media provide extensive coverage of the events. Such persecution has itself become a focus of attention, for example when Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei sharply critized the Youssef legal challenges. Via Twitter, the opposition leader declared such questioning as the kind seen in "fascist regimes." (...)