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Quran-burning pastor briefly jailed in Michigan

The arrest by a local police chief of the American pastor who burned the Quran, triggering deadly violence against foreigners in Afghanistan, was upheld by a jury

AFP , Saturday 23 Apr 2011
Gainesville Florida pastor Terry Jones (L) and Rabbi Nachum Shifren of Santa Monica, California chat with two other men during a brief recess in the 19th District Dearborn Court during a hearing in front of Judge Mark Somers about Jones' right to protest in Dearborn, Michigan, April 22, 2011. REUTERS

The US pastor whose burning of a Quran sparked deadly violence in Afghanistan has been briefly jailed in a heavily Islamic suburb after a court banned his protest outside a mosque.

A local judge jailed pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida, and his associate Wayne Sapp on Friday after a court ruled that their planned protest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, could lead to violence.

During his court appearance, Jones argued that the Quran "promotes terrorist activities around the world."

He also insisted that his right to protest against Islam was protected by the US Constitution.

"The First Amendment does us no good if it confines us to saying what is popular," he said.

But Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad testified that his department had received information about serious threats made against Jones from local residents, arguing that his protest could lead to violence if allowed.

Prosecutor Robert Moran argued that the protest had nothing to do with the First Amendment and that the community's security and peace were at stake.

In the end, the jury sided with the prosecution and Judge Mark Somers set bond at the symbolic amount of a dollar each for the two pastors, which they initially refused to pay.

Following their refusal, both were escorted to a local jail. But local media reported that they changed their minds after spending about an hour behind bars and posted the bond.

Under the judge's ruling, both Jones and Sapp are now prohibited by the court from going to the mosque for three years.

But Jones was quoted by The Detroit Free Press as saying the two "will come back next week" to try to organise a new protest.

Dearborn is home to the largest Muslim community in the United States. The 2000 census found the city's population to be 30 per cent Arab-American.

Hundreds of local residents who rallied in front of Henry Ford Centennial Library late Friday denied they tried to silence free speech and called on residents to remain peaceful.

"We come here today not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Jews, but as Americans," said Osama Sablani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News and one of the organisers of the rally. "We have only one flag, and it is the American flag."

Jones and Sapp made international headlines after their ceremonial "trial and execution" of the Quran by burning the Islamic holy book on 20 March in his Florida church that led to deadly protests in Afghanistan.

Seven UN staff were killed during one protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sherif on 1 April. Overall, more than 20 people have been killed.

Jones believes Islam and the Quran promote intolerance and violence.

Following the killing of UN peacekeepers, the evangelical pastor said he and his supporters demanded action from the United Nations.

"Islam is not a religion of peace," he said in an earlier statement. "The time has come to hold Islam accountable."

He said that Muslim-dominated countries could no longer be allowed to spread their hatred against Christians and minorities.

"They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed," he stated.

Jones had long threatened to burn the Quran despite warnings that it would put American troops and others in Afghanistan in danger.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.