Grand mufti approves death penalty for ‘Innocence of Muslims’ producers

Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has approved a death sentence delivered in absentia for seven Coptic Egyptian expats accused of producing and acting a movie deemed insulting to Islam.

The declaration was made Tuesday by a judge at the Cairo Criminal Court.

Egypt's State Security Court had sentenced the defendants in November to death and referred the verdict to the mufti for approval.

The seven defendants are the film's alleged producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Maurice Sadeq Girgis Abdel Shahid, a lawyer and a founder of the Washington-based National American Coptic Assembly, the assembly's spokesperson Nabil Adib Bassada, physician Fekry Abdel Masih Zoqloma, religious program presenter Morcos Aziz Khalil, Phoebe Abdel Masih Paules Salib and Nader Farid Nicola.

Five of the defendants live in the United States, one in Australia and another in Canada.

Prosecutors accused them of provoking sectarianism, blasphemy and endangering national unity and social peace. They had also been accused of posting an Internet invitation to divide Egypt into several states along ethnic and religious lines.

The amateur, 13-minute movie, “Innocence of Muslims," sparked an uproar in several Islamic states. Angry protesters attacked the US Embassy in Cairo last September and tore down the American flag. Violent protests also broke out in neighboring countries, including Libya and Tunisia, and the movie was also blamed for an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.

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