Egypt court sentences 8 to death over prophet film
FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 file photo, Palestinian Islamic Jihad supporters rally with banners depicting Morris Sadek during a protest in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The banners in Arabic read, "Death to Israel," "death to America" and, "anyone but God's Prophet." An Egyptian court on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 has convicted in absentia seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor and sentenced them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court convicted in absentia Wednesday seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor, sentencing them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world.
The case was seen as largely symbolic because the defendants, most of whom live in the United States, are all outside Egypt and are thus unlikely to ever face the sentence. The charges were brought in September during a wave of public outrage in Egypt over the amateur film, which was produced by an Egyptian-American Copt.
The low-budget "Innocence of Muslims," parts of which were made available online, portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, womanizer and buffoon.
Egypt's official news agency said the court found the defendants guilty of harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information — charges that carry the death sentence.
Maximum sentences are common in cases tried in absentia in Egypt. Capital punishment decisions are reviewed by the country's chief religious authority, who must approve or reject the sentence. A final verdict is scheduled on Jan. 29.
The man behind the film, Mark Basseley Youssef, was among those convicted. He was sentenced in a California court earlier this month to one year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter. Youssef, 55, admitted that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver's license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case.
Multiple calls to Youssef's attorney in Southern California, Steve Seiden, were not returned Wednesday.
Florida-based Terry Jones, another of those sentenced, is the pastor of Dove World Outreach, a church of less than 50 members in Gainesville, Fla., not far from the University of Florida. He has said he was contacted by the filmmaker to promote the film, as well as Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who posted the video clips on his website.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 file photo, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center speaks at a news conference in Gainesville, Fla. An Egyptian court has convicted in absentia Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and Jones, Florida-based American pastor and sentenced them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world.(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Jones said the ruling "shows the true face of Islam" — one that he views as intolerant of dissent and opposed to basic freedoms of speech and religion.