Youssef, a Christian originally from Egypt, then went into hiding after he was identified as the man behind the trailer, which depicts Muhammad as a womanizer, religious fraud and child molester. He met with federal probation officials two weeks ago, was led out of his home in suburban Cerritos in the middle of the night, flanked by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and cloaked in heavy clothing to protect his identity.
Youssef came out of hiding Thursday for his court appearance, although the news media were banned from the courtroom and reporters had to watch the proceedings on a TV in a nearby courthouse. No photos were allowed.
Youssef wore beige pants and a collared shirt when he was led into the courtroom handcuffed and shackled. He appeared relaxed, smiling at one point before the hearing and conferring with his attorney.
Youssef’s attorney, Steven Seiden, sought to have the hearing closed and his client released on $10,000 bail. He argued Youssef has checked in with his probation officer frequently and made no attempts to leave Southern California.
Seiden was concerned that Youssef would be in danger in federal prison because of Muslim inmates, but prosecutors said he likely would be placed in protective custody.
Lawrence Rosenthal, a constitutional and criminal law professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, said it was “highly unusual” for a judge to order immediate detention on a probation violation for a nonviolent crime, but if there were questions about Youssef’s identity it was more likely.
“When the prosecution doesn’t really know who they’re dealing with, it’s much easier to talk about flight,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve prosecuted individuals who’d never given a real address. You don’t know who you’re dealing with, and you’re just going to have very limited confidence about their ability to show up in court.”
Enraged Muslims have demanded punishment for Youssef, and a Pakistani cabinet minister has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills him.
First Amendment advocates have defended Youssef’s right to make the film while condemning its content. Federal officials likely will face criticism from those who say Youssef’s free speech rights were trampled by his arrest on a probation violation.
“He’s a person who simply can’t be trusted,” he said.
• Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus and Amy Taxin in Orange County, Calif. contributed to this report.