Muslim Filipinos take fight against video to high court

Ozamiz, south Philippines (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Muslims in the southern Philippine province Lanao del Sur are taking their battle against the "anti-Islamic" video "Innocence of Muslims" to the Supreme Court.

Several Maranao leaders yesterday will petition the high court to order several government agencies to "ban public viewing" of the controversial film that has angered Muslims worldwide because of its "insulting depiction" of the Prophet Mohammad.

On September 17, Maranao protesters burned American and Israeli flags to show their disgust over the Jewish-financed film produced by a California-based filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile.

"We abhor violence, that is why we are seeking legal succor to put a stop to this attack on Islam in the guise of freedom of expression," Aga Khan Mangondato Sharief, one of the petitioners, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview.

Among others, Sharief said, the petition will be directed at the Department of Transportation and Communications, National Telecommunications Commission, and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board so that these agencies will "take the necessary measures to block the film" from being shown "at least in the country."

Sharief also called on companies that provide Internet-related services like Google Philippines to block video clips of the film on its sites.

Lawyer Bayan Balt, counsel for the petitioners, said the film's content represents a "substantial invasion of the free exercise of religion."

"Apart from constituting no merit, the film incites hatred [among the Muslim populace] which could be exploited by radicals and terrorists," Balt said.

Banning public viewing of the film, he said, whould also be a way for the government to further build confidence with the Muslims, "especially at a time when the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are nearing a positive conclusion."

"The Muslim world will be very happy to see our country taking steps to quell anti-Islamic activities," Balt stressed.

During Friday prayers in Marawi City, local religious leaders urged the faithful to contribute at least one peso to help defray the costs related to the Supreme Court petition.

Sharief said they collected at least 60,000 pesos (US$1,400) in one-peso coins, which was "symbolic of the widespread sentiment here against the film."

Meanwhile, amid international vigilance over violent protests spurred by the release of the anti-Islam video, the United Kingdom has warned its citizens against "demonstrations and large gatherings of people" in the Philippines.

With a report from Tarra Quismundo

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