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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
CAIRO/BRUSSELS (BosNewsLife)-- The European Union was under pressure Wednesday, November 28, to freeze 500 million euro ($647 million) in annual financial aid to Egypt after a court in the capital Cairo sentenced seven Egyptian Christians and an American pastor to death for their involvement in an anti-Islam film that prompted deadly riots throughout the world.
"The seven accused persons were convicted of insulting the Islamic religion through participating in producing and offering a movie that insults Islam and its prophet," Judge Saif al-Nasr Soliman said.
He agreed that the low-budget video, produced privately in the U.S. state of California and released on the Internet, denigrated the Prophet Mohammad.
The case was seen as largely symbolic because the defendants, most of whom live in the United States, are all outside Egypt and unlikely to face the verdict.
Among those convicted was the man behind the film, Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, an Egyptian-American who currently serves a one-year-jail term in Los Angeles after an American court convicted him of probation violations in an unrelated matter.
Pastor Terry Jones of the 50-member Dove World Outreach church in the U.S. state of Florida was also among those sentenced. Jones, known for threatening to burn the Koran, supported the film.
However, Christian Europarliamentarian Peter van Dalen, of the Dutch 'ChristenUnie' (ChristianUnion) party, told BosNewsLife in a reaction that it is "absolutely outrages that...people are sentenced to death for participating in a film."
He said he has asked the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, "to freeze the 500 million euro annual aid to Egypt" and to "summon the Egyptian ambassador" to Brussels.
There was no immediate response from Ashton or her office.
"Egypt makes itself look ridiculous by the way it treats religious freedom and human rights," Van Dalen said.
The 13-minute video "Innocence of Muslims", which was first posted on the video sharing YouTube website in English and later in Arabic, triggered anti-U.S. protests and attacks on Western embassies around the Muslim world.
It depicts Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a fool and a sexual deviant man, although cast members claimed they were "misled" into appearing in a movie they believed was an adventure drama called "Desert Warrior." One person who re-posted it on YouTube under nickname DarthF3TT said it was "a stupid movie not worthy of the global turmoil."
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Egypt's Coptic Church declined to condemn Wednesday's ruling, at a time of heightened Muslim-Christian tensions. "The Church denounced the movie, which it has nothing to do with. As for today's case, it is a court ruling and the Church does not comment on court decisions," a Church source told reporters under condition of anonymity.
However the latest ruling comes amid concerns within the Christian community about growing power by Islamists in Egypt.
On Wednesday, November 27, hundreds of demonstrators began gathering in Cairo's Tahrir Square for a sixth day demanding that President Mohamed Mursi overturns a decree turns him into an autocratic Egyptian Pharaoh as it him dictatorial powers.
Two of Egypt's top courts stopped work in protest of the decree, which defends from judicial review decisions taken by Mursi until a new parliament is elected in a vote expected early next year.
The decree also shields the Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt's new constitution from legal challenges that have threatened the body with dissolution and offers the same protection to the Islamist-controlled upper house of parliament.
Protesters say they boost the powers of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is supported by Mursi.
Representatives of Coptic Christians, who comprise roughly 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people, have expressed concerns about growing Islamic attacks against churches and individuals in the country.
Since last year, at least dozens of Christians have been killed and injured in violence since last year.
The developments have overshadowed the initial euphoria after the ouster of long-time President Hosni Mubarak last year.