Seven Egyptian Coptic Christians living abroad and a
US pastor will be tried by a criminal court for insulting Islam over a film
made in California which mocks the Prophet Mohammad, Egypt's public prosecutor
said on Tuesday.
The Egyptians include US-based Morris Sadek who has
said he promoted the film that provoked outrage in the Muslims
Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who angered Muslims in 2010 by
threatening to burn the Koran and who has expressed support for the film, is
The public prosecutor said in a statement that convictions
could be punishable by the death penalty and called for the seven Copts and
Jones to be handed over to Egypt, but did not say in which the countries the
A judicial source said two Egyptian lawyers had raised the
suit with the public prosecutor, who referred the case to a criminal court on
Tuesday. The court will set a date for the trial, the source added.
at the film has stretched across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In several
cities, protesters attacked US embassies, blaming America for the video. In
Egypt, protesters clambered over the embassy wall and tore down the US flag,
and clashed with police in streets nearby for four days.
Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemy, let alone one deemed
insulting. The crude film, Innocence of Muslims, portrayed the Prophet as a
womaniser, thug and child molester. Clips circulated on the Internet for
The seven Copts to be tried also include Elia Basseley, who the
prosecutor said was also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The 55-year-old,
widely linked to the film, has been interviewed by US federal officers probing
possible probation violations.
The US government has called the film
disgusting and reprehensible, but said it could not act against it as that would
violate freedom of expression. Egypt has urged Washington to take legal steps
against those insulting religion.
Sadek, who heads a group called the
National American Coptic Assembly, told Reuters last week that he promoted the
film to highlight discrimination towards Copts in Egypt, a reference to some
opening scenes of the film about that issue.
Speaking from the United
States, he also said he was sorry about the death of the US ambassador and
three other Americans in Libya in an assault by gunmen on the Benghazi
consulate, but added anyone who objected to the film should do so
The seven Copts and Jones will also be tried over accusations
they sought to divide Egypt, in which about 10 percent of the 83 million
population are Christians.
Christians in the country have long complained
about discrimination in the workplace and under laws, such as those that make it
harder to build a church than a mosque. Egypt's new Islamist president, Mohamed
Mursi, says he will treat all Egyptians fairly.
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox
church condemned insults to Islam and condemned some Copts abroad who they say
financed the film.
Highlighting how Egypt's judiciary deals with such
cases, a Copt in the Sohag region south of Cairo was jailed for six years on
Tuesday, three of them for insulting the Prophet and Islam, the state news
Bishoi Kameel, an English teacher, was convicted for
publishing pictures deemed offensive to the Prophet on Facebook. He was also
convicted and sentenced for insulting the president and another citizen.