- (Photo: REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori)
Cairo officials ruled Wednesday that seven Egyptian Christians in the U.S. and Canada be sentenced, in absentia, to death for their participation in the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film, which was published to YouTube in September and resulted in riots and protests among Muslims in the Middle East.
"The seven accused persons were convicted of insulting the Islamic religion through participating in producing and offering a movie that insults Islam and its prophet," Egyptian Judge Saif al-Nasr Soliman said Wednesday, according to Reuters.
The court charged the seven Coptic Christians, which include the film's director and producer Mark Basseley Youssef, with "intentionally committing acts to harm the unity of the country and peace of its land, calling to divide the country into small states on a sectarian basis and harming national unity, and using religion to promote extremist ideas resulting in religious division and disrespect [of] heavenly religion," according to NBC News.
Youssef is currently serving one year in U.S. prison for violating the stipulations of his probation for a 2010 bank fraud charge. Youssef admitted to officials that since 2010, he has used multiple fake names, which is against his probation terms.
Despite the resulting riots in the Middle East, Youssef recently told The New York Times in his first interview since the "Innocence of Muslims" aired in September that he has no regrets in directing the film.
"I thought, before I wrote this script, that I should burn myself in a public square to let the American people and the people of the world know this message that I believe in," Youssef said to NY Times in a report published Nov. 25. The report revealed that he also uses the name Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Ebrahem Fawzy Youssef.
Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian living in the U.S., was also sentenced to death in absentia at Wednesday's hearing for posting clips of the "Innocence of Muslims" video on his website.
Additionally, five others were sentenced to death, although as Fox News points out, their connection to the film is unclear.
The others convicted include a Canadian Christian lawyer who has previously threatened to sue Egypt over the death of Christians, two Copts who worked closely with Sadek in the U.S., a Coptic priest who hosts religious programs from the U.S., and a female Christian convert who has maintained an outspoken opposition to Islam.
Under court law in Egypt, receiving a sentence of death in absentia entails an automatic opportunity to request an appeal once the defendant re-enters Egypt.
Critics contend that the death sentences were largely seen as symbolic since none of the defendants live in Egypt and therefore are unlikely to face a verdict.
In addition to sentencing seven Egyptian Christians to death, controversial Florida Christan minister Terry Jones, known for publicly burning Qurans, is facing accusations in Egypt for helping to promote the "Innocence of Muslims" film back in September.
The Cairo court ruled Wednesday that Jones' trial would be heard on Dec. 29.
"Innocence of Muslims" is a 14-minute film that reportedly insults the prophet Muhammad.
The film's debut in September sparked rioting and attacks on U.S. embassies in Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Three Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya after the film surfaced. It has since been determined that the Benghazi attack was premeditated and carried out by terrorists under the ruse of a protest against the film.