Jury finds 10 of 'Irvine 11' guilty of misdemeanors

By JTA
September 23, 2011 22:33

Defendants face up to 6 months in prison and a fine for disrupting a speech by ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine.

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UC Irvine

UC Irvine_311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

An Orange County jury on Friday found 10 Muslim students guilty of misdemeanors for disrupting a 2010 speech by Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

In a case that drew national attention, 11 Muslim students had stood one by one and interrupted a February 2010 speech by Oren at the University of California - Irvine. Oren twice walked off the stage as students shouted "Mass murderer!" and "War criminal!" before being hauled out of the room by campus police. A planned Q&A session after the address was dropped.

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The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine, which organized the heckling, was suspended for a year by the school for violating the school's code of conduct, but four months later got the suspension changed to probation on appeal.

About a year afterward, charges were brought against the students for the disruptions. One later got the charges dismissed for pledging to perform community service.

The charges created a fierce debate on campuses over the line between student activism and uncivil behavior.

Arguments at the trial largely revolved around two differing views of freedom of speech. District Attorney Dan Wagner describing the students as "censors" who utilized the "heckler's veto."

"This is about freedom of speech," Wagner said in his closing statement. "That's why were all here."

Defense attorneys described the charges as an attempt to chill free political speech on campus.

The jury began deliberations at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the verdict was reached Friday morning.

The defendants face up to 6 months in prison and a fine.

Charges have been tentatively dismissed against the 11th defendant.


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