WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday expressed concern over defamation charges brought against two Egyptian journalists critical of President Mohamed Mursi and called on the government to condemn actions that stifle freedom of expression.
Public Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim, appointed by Mursi in November, ordered the criminal trial of Magdi El Galad, editor in chief of El-Watan newspaper, and Alaa El-Ghatrify, its managing editor, state newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
Over the last few months several journalists, talk show hosts and comedians in Egypt have been charged with defamation, and activists accuse the government of using the courts to crack down on dissent.
El-Watan is fiercely critical of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that has dominated Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in political protests in 2011.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said such charges were a "step backward" for Egypt's democratic transition and urged Egyptian authorities to speak out against such actions.
"Such charges do not conform to Egypt's international obligations, do not reflect international standards regarding freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, particularly in a democratic society, and represent a step backward for Egypt's democratic transition," he said.
Ventrell said the United States had made clear its concerns privately to Egyptian officials. "Part of the issue here is that some of this is being dealt through the judicial branch, but we are calling on the government themselves to make a statement," he added.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)