Egypt Sentences 'Innocence of Muslims' Filmmaker to Death
The seven were convicted of "insulting the Islamic religion" and "using religion to promote extremist ideas."
Mark Basseley Youssef, already in prison in the United States, has been sentenced in absentia to death in his home country of Egypt.
The radical Coptic Christian, who emigrated to the United States in 1986, was given the death sentence for his amateur anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, which prompted riots across the Middle East upon its uploading to YouTube in September. A shadowy figure with a criminal past -- he is a former meth supply dealer and was convicted of bank fraud -- he was convicted alongside six other Egyptians who helped with the film's production of "insulting the Islamic religion through participating in producing and offering a movie that insults Islam and its prophet."
According to NBC News, the charges included "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."
Youseff, who has gone by names such as Sam Bacile and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is currently in prison in the United States for violating probation.
The film, at first said to cost $5 million but believed to run on a budget of closer to $80,000, was billed to local L.A. actors as Desert Warrior, a non-ideological sandals-and-swords epic. Dialogue was dubbed over in postproduction; when actors in the film said "Master George," it was changed to "Muhammad."
One of the film's actresses, Cindy Lee Garcia, who has unsuccessfully sued to have the film taken off YouTube, told THR: "The actors were deceived. My voice was dubbed, and it wasn’t even my voice. I had no idea he did that until the trailer came out. My only part was the role of a mother talking to her husband, her daughter and this man named Master George."
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Youssef defended his 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."