CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has ordered the withdrawal of legal complaints filed by the presidency against journalists, in a move that appeared aimed at fending off accusations of a crackdown on dissent by the Islamist-led authorities.
Mursi withdrew the complaints out of respect for freedom of expression, presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said.
Mursi is under international pressure to work for consensus and stability while Egypt seeks aid from the International Monetary Fund to ease an economic crisis. On Monday his government appeared to be heeding some of the concerns of the liberal and leftist opposition by announcing moves to amend the new constitution.
However, the latest legal move does not apply to complaints filed independently by Mursi loyalists against journalists and media figures.
These include complaints that led to an arrest warrant being issued against the popular satirist Bassem Youssef. He is accused of insulting the president and Islam in a probe that has added to concern inside and outside Egypt about freedom of expression in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.
The United States, which supplies Egypt with some $1.5 billion a year in aid, most of it for the military, last week accused Cairo of muzzling freedom.
The U.S. State Department also suggested the authorities were selectively prosecuting those accused of insulting the government while ignoring or playing down attacks on anti-government demonstrators.
“It is a half step. It remains for the members of the president’s party to stop trying to intimidate journalists,” said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer who has documented such cases. He said the presidency had filed three of some two dozen cases alleging insults against Mursi since he came to office last June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.
The presidency has also been heavily critical of what it describes as false news published by independently-owned media that are broadly critical of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Earlier this year, Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s most widely read independent newspapers, said its editor had been investigated by the prosecutor’s office after a formal complaint from the presidency about an inaccurate story on Mursi’s movements.
Mursi has said he respects freedom of expression. The presidency has pointed to his banning of pre-trial detention of journalists as proof of his commitment to a free press.
Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kevin Liffey