Mark Basseley Youssef (aka Nakoula Basseley Nakoula), the filmmaker connected to the controversial film “The Innocence of Muslims,” has been sentenced to a year in prison for violations of his probation for his 2010 bank fraud conviction. The arrest of Youssef raised immediate objections that, while the Obama Administration insisted that it would not punish such acts of free speech, it set out to arrest him on any possible grounds to satisfy the “Arab Street.”
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder sentenced Youssef on four of the eight alleged violations that he admitted to, including obtaining a fraudulent California driver’s license (which can be based on any information deemed inaccurate or false). What is most problematic is the violation of denying his full role in the film. The Obama Administration wanted a two-year sentence for Youssef. He also was found to have used a different name without the approval of his probation officer. At least three names have been associated with Youssef since the film — Sam Bacile, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Youssef. However, documents show that Youssef legally changed his name from Nakoula in 2002 but continued to occasionally identify himself as Nakoula.
When the Administration arrested Youssef, it seemed to go out of its way to be sure that there were ample opportunities for filming him being dragged way in cuffs — an image that was immediately broadcast around the world. It sent a chilling message to some that the government can generally find some grounds to punish you when you cause a controversy — even if you are not prosecuted for the underlying speech itself. Violations of probation conditions are quite common and rarely result in re-incarceration. Probation terms tend to be sweeping and most such violations result in warnings or brief appearances before the court.
None of this excuses Youssef’s actions, particularly in his acquiring of the driver’s license. Yet, the speedy arrest (and now conviction) leaves many civil libertarians uneasy as to whether the Administration found a way to “hoist the wretch” by other means than blasphemy.