In what may be largely a symbolic move, yesterday a court in Egypt convicted and sentenced to death in abstentia 8 individuals who are connected with the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims." AP and NBC report on the convictions for "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." The best known of those convicted are the film's producer Mark Basseley Youssef (also known as Eli Basily), and anti-Muslim Florida pastor Terry Jones. Also convicted were 6 other Coptic Christians-- two of whom work in the U.S. for the Coptic group Sadek that calls for an independent Coptic state; a priest who hosts TV programs from the U.S.; a lawyer living in Canada who has previously sued the Egyptian government over riots in 2000 that left 21 Christians dead; and a woman who converted to Christianity and is a critic of Islam.
Decisions involving capital punishment must be reviewed by the country's chief religious authority. Also, defendants convicted in abstentia of a capital crime would be automatically entitled to an appeal, and thus a retrial, if they were to return to Egypt. Maximum sentences are common in Egypt in cases tried in abstentia.