A Cairo Criminal Court slapped seven Coptic expatriates with death sentences and American pastor Terry Jones with a five-year jail term for their alleged roles in the production last year of a short film that defames the Islamic faith, German news agency DPA reported on Tuesday. All the defendants were tried in absentia.
The court ruled the film in question, dubbed 'The Innocence of Muslims,' to be defamatory to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed and a potential threat to Egypt's national unity.
The seven convicted Coptic expatriates were: Maurice Sadiq Gerges, founder of a US-based Coptic association; Morkos Aziz, a US-based television presenter; Fekry Abdul-Messih, a US-based doctor; Nabil Adib, media coordinator for another US-based association; Nahid Metwally, an Australia-based doctor; Egyptian-born Copt Mark Baccil Youssef (charged with producing the film); and Nader Farid, a commerce graduate.
On 18 November, Egypt's State Security Court referred the requested death sentences to Egypt's Grand Mufti for his approval, in accordance with Egyptian law.
Gerges and Jones, the latter of whom is known for his public burnings of the Quran, are believed to have been involved in promoting the film but not in its production, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.
The film sparked angry protests throughout much of the Islamic world, including Egypt and Libya, when it appeared online in September.
Egypt-based Coptic schoolteacher Bishoy Kamel was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison for sharing the film on Facebook.
Egyptian Coptic activist Alber Saber, was released on bail last month after spending three months in detention in Egypt for also sharing the film online.