Saturday, September 24, 2011

'Irvine 11' jury finds all 10 students guilty

Muslim college students convicted of disrupting speech

By Tori Richards Reuters

SANTA ANA, Calif | Fri Sep 23, 2011

Ten Muslim college students from Southern California were convicted on Friday of unlawfully disrupting a speech by Israel's
ambassador to the United States last year.

The verdict followed two full days of deliberations by a six-man,
six-woman jury in the so-called "Irvine 11" case, which touched off a
furor over free speech rights at the University of California at Irvine.

Spectators began wailing in the packed courtroom in Santa Ana,
California when the verdicts were read by a court clerk, and about 50
people left the courtroom visibly upset.

The defendants, who are all in their early twenties, were convicted
of one count each of conspiracy and disturbing an assembly and could
face jail terms of up to a year, probation or community service at sentencing.

Charges have been tentatively dismissed against the 11th defendant.

"We're going to continue fighting this. We're going to appeal this
decision," supporter Marya Bangee, 25, told Reuters outside the court.

"These men to us represent our struggle for civil rights in this
country and for them to be found guilty and sentenced for speaking
their minds is devastating for us all," Bangee said.

The case stems from a protest organized by the Muslim Student Union
at the university of a February 8, 2010 speech there by Michael Oren,
the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Prosecutors say the students interrupted his appearance by yelling
such insults as, "It's a shame this university has sponsored a mass
murderer like yourself."

The Orange County District Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting
the case, has said the students -- rather than exercising their own
free-speech rights -- were interfering with the right of Oren to be heard.

But the charges against the students drew an outcry from civil
liberties advocates and Southern California's Muslim community, who
say the students were unfairly singled out for prosecution even
though similar protests are common at universities and do not result
in prosecution.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at UC Irvine, has also
criticized the criminal charges as heavy-handed.

The Muslim Student Union was suspended by the university for an
academic quarter and put on probation for two years.

(Writing by
Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

'Irvine 11' jury finds all 10 students guilty

September 23, 2011 | LA Times

After more than two days of deliberation, an Orange County jury on
Friday found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors to
conspire and then disrupt a February 2010 speech at UC Irvine last
year by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

There was crying as the verdict was read in Superior Court Judge
Peter J. Wilson's courtroom. The students showed no visible emotion,
although they hugged each afterward. Some also stormed out.

In a case that garnered national attention over free-speech rights,
the trial centered on conflicting views of who was being censored.
Prosecutors argued that Ambassador Michael Oren was "shut down" when
his speech was interrupted by students who took turns shouting
preplanned phrases in a crowded UC Irvine ballroom.

Six defense attorneys argued that the students, seven from UC Irvine
and three from UC Riverside, were only following the norm of other
college protests and were being singled out.

A guilty verdict, the defense had said during the trial, could chill
student activism and the free exchange of ideas at colleges nationwide.

University administrators disciplined some of the students involved
and suspended the campus Muslim Student Union, whose members
participated in the protest, for an academic quarter. The group is
still on probation.

The case also has drawn the attention of a wide range of groups,
including Muslim and Jewish organizations and civil libertarians. The
trial began Sept. 7.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine's Law School, has said that
although freedom of speech is not an absolute right, university
sanctions were enough for the students.

But he also added that he believes criminal sanctions go too far.

Chemerinsky told The Times last week that "it makes no sense" to use
such resources. "It's so minor."

Charges against one defendant were tentatively dismissed pending
completion of 40 hours of community service at a local soup kitchen.

But the other 10 went on trial Sept. 11 before packed, at times
noisy, crowds in the courtroom.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz and Mike Anton

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