Egypt court to try Copts abroad over anti-Islam film

7 Coptic Christians, US pastor Terry Jones to be tried by criminal court for insulting Islam over support for "blasphemous" film.

Coptic Christian Cross R370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Dalsh)
Coptic Christian Cross R370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Dalsh)
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 world.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who angered Muslims in 2010 by threatening to burn the Koran and who has expressed support for the film, is also accused.
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 Copts were.
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.
Anger 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.
For many 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 weeks.
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 peacefully.
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 agency reported.
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.