On Tuesday, Egypt's general prosecutor issued eight arrest warrants for anti-Muslim U.S. pastor Terry Jones, producer Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and six other Coptic Christians associated with the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, the Associated Press reports. The prosecutor's office says the seven men and one woman could face the death penalty and are charged with "harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information." It's not clear where the other Coptic Christians live (an AFP report names them as Adel Riad, Morris Sadek, Nabil Bissada, Esmat Zaklama, Elia Bassily, Ihab Yaacoub and Jack Atallah) but the prosecutor says they are outside of Egypt at the moment. Meanwhile Jones and Nakoula live in the free lands of Florida and California, respectively, where it's not a crime to make or promote a movie that depicts the prophet Muhammad as an effete homosexual.
However, that doesn't mean their security situation isn't a major legal headache for U.S. officials. As Gillian Flaccus writes for the Associated Press, the U.S. is in a tricky position. "If the government were to overtly protect Nakoula, it could be seen by some as tacit approval of the film, and further enflame protests. Leaving him to fend for himself could have deadly consequences. There are examples of violence against others who have written or spoken against Muhammad." So far, the government has offered some assistance, in the form of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies escorting Nakoula to a meeting with probation officials in the dead of night.
One would assume the U.S. would reject any Egyptian extradition request on First Amendment grounds, which could inflame Egyptian sentiment further. As Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at Chapman University’s School of Law, told the AP. ‘‘The thing that makes this particularly difficult for the United States is that ... we treat what most of us would refer to as hate speech as constitutionally protected speech and Americans don’t appreciate, I think, how unusual this position seems in the rest of the world." You can say that again.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.