|Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly|
See updates at the end of this post.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT 23, 12:04 P.M.: Cries and wails erupted in the Santa Ana courtroom as the verdict was read. All 10 defendants in the Irvine 11 case have been found guilty of disturbing a public meeting and engaging in a conspiracy to do so.
Several people immediately bolted out the door, murmuring, "No justice, no justice." About 10 armed security guards lined the room.
Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, Khalid Gahgat Akari, Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, Joseph Tamim Haider, Taher Mutaz Herzallah, Shaheen Waleed Nassar, Mohammad Uns Qureashi, Ali Mohammad Sayeed, Osama Ahmen Shabaik and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina face up to a year in jail.
The case centers on a Feb. 8, 2010 incident. During a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren
held at and sponsored by UC Irvine, members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) stood up one after another and shouted scripted messages relating to the 2009 war on Gaza ("You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!" "Murder is not free speech!") before being escorted out by police.
"One word: unbelievable," said Shakeel Syed
, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, after the verdict was announced. "I feel that a part of America has died today."
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was present for the reading.
UPDATE, SEPT. 23, 2:44 P.M.: All 10 defendants have been sentenced to three years of informal probation, along with 56 hours of community service. If they complete the community service hours within one year, by Sept. 24, 2012, the probation period will be reduced to one year.
Judge Peter Wilson told the court that since the students had clean records and the disruption was "motivated by beliefs" and "not for the sake of disruption," imprisonment was not warranted.
UPDATE, SEPT. 23, 5:58 P.M.: Outside the courthouse, the defendants gathered for a press conference, where they were finally able to speak about the case.
Shaheen Nassar, a 21-year-old student from UC Riverside, said he "respects the court's the decision," but also wanted to express "how proud I am of my actions."
Two of his cousins died in the 2009 attack on Gaza, which he said prompted him to speak out on that February 2010 evening.
Even after facing legal issues, he said, "I'm inspired to do more."
His father, Waleed Nassar, called the trial "fair."
"They did something they felt was their right and the district attorney thought they overstepped their right," the elder Nassar said. "We have to obey the judgment system."
Defense attorneys said they will appeal the court's decision, but Waleed Nassar doesn't wish to take the next step, explaining, "They should focus on school and becoming leaders in the community. These are the next Congressmen."
Attorney Lisa Holder said the defendants "serve as an example for young people," adding that they "stood up in a world that has become apathetic."
Community members are already volunteering to do community service alongside the Irvine 11, attorney Dan Mayfield announced.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California put out a statement saying it is "deeply troubled" by the criminal conviction. "Even if protests on college campuses occasionally cross a line from protected speech into conduct, prosecutors cannot selectively intervene to punish students who say things they do not like," the statement said.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas instead called the UC Irvine incident "censorship by a few."
"Today, an Orange County jury sent a strong message that First Amendment rights belong to every American and we will not tolerate a small band of people who want to hijack our freedoms," he said in a statement.