Who's Gagging Whom In the Irvine 11 Case?

The First Amendment, academic freedom and Islamophobia collide in an OC courtroom

In her closing arguments for what has come to be known as the Irvine 11 case, defense attorney Reem Salahi offered a personal story. Displayed on the projection screen was a black-and-white photograph of a man with his mouth taped shut.

"I talked to my cousin in Syria," she began. Before she could go any further, however, the prosecution objected, saying the tale didn't relate to evidence in the case. Judge Peter Wilson agreed.

"Well," Salahi said. "I guess I can't tell you my story. I got shut down."

The packed courtroom exploded with laughter and cheers. After the jurors stepped out, the judge admonished the crowd for its outburst. "This is a court of law," Wilson said sternly. "It is not a spectator sport."

The irony was not lost on anyone. A decision would soon arrive in the historic Irvine 11 trial, one that has ignited an unusual debate over First Amendment rights at public events.

The case centers on an incident during a Feb. 8, 2010, speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at and sponsored by UC Irvine. Members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) stood up and shouted scripted messages relating to the 2009 attack on the Gaza Strip—such as "You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!" and "Murder is not free speech!"—before being escorted out by police. The university suspended the MSU and ordered the group to collectively complete 100 hours of community service.

A year after the protest, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed criminal misdemeanor charges against 11 students, eight from UCI and three from UC Riverside, who became known as the Irvine 11. The 10 current defendants are Mohamad 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. (Charges against Hakim Nasreddine Kebir will be dropped if he completes 40 hours of community service by next month.) "In our democratic society, we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker, whom hundreds assembled to hear," Rackauckas said in a statement.

The students are charged with disturbing a public meeting and engaging in a conspiracy to do so. If convicted, each faces up to a year in jail.

The defendants, silenced by a gag order, are at the center of a political maelstrom, as people around the country watch YouTube videos of the demonstration. They've been called martyrs, bravely speaking out against injustice in the Middle East. They've been called pawns in a trial brought on for political gain. They've been called thugs, unwilling to engage in civil dialogue and very willing to squelch dissent at any cost.

But lead prosecutor Dan Wagner called them "guilty," writing the word on an easel pad in bold red letters.

"Who is the censor in this case?" he asked the jurors. "Right there—10 of them."

He added, "Free speech is not absolute. It does not include the right to suppress or cancel another person's right to free speech. If it did, then no one would have the right to free speech."

In his prosecution, Wagner tried to prove the defendants "willfully disturbed" a lawful meeting by presenting a series of emails that were sent in the days leading up to the protest. Obtained from Google by search warrant, the messages discussed plans for a disruption similar to a 2009 incident at the University of Chicago, where about 30 demonstrators stood up in the crowd, one by one, to protest a lecture being given by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

One email contained the minutes from an MSU meeting, which stated that the goal of the protest was to "send the speaker a message" and show him that "he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants." Included were plans to "disrupt the whole event" and "shut down with individual disruption."

Rabbi David Eliezrie, president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County, sat in the courtroom in support of the prosecution. He attended Oren's speech last year and described the disruptions as "frightening for anyone who believes in the Constitution."

"If they wanted to go outside and walk around with signs, that's their right," he told the Weekly. As for the way the students protested, he called it "everything just short of violence."

Wagner included as evidence several warnings and scoldings from UCI Chancellor Michael Drake and professor Mark Petracca throughout the event.

The defense, in turn, tried to get jurors to look at the incident in the greater context. "College students protest," said attorney Jacqueline Goodman in her closing arguments. "Protest is messy, but it's beautiful. This is how democracy survives."

During the trial, attorney Lisa Holder explained the students were speaking out against violence, that they "modeled their behavior after revered leaders they had studied at UC Irvine," including Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The defense team had brought in several witnesses who had experienced student protests, all of which ended without arrests or sanctions. Goodman projected a photograph of Representative Joe Wilson and his infamous "You lie!" in reference to his outburst during President Barack Obama's September 2009 health-care address. She compared the disruptions by the defendants to comedy-club heckling: "Rude, not illegal."

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Imgemkr
Imgemkr

Ignorance? The only thing I'm ignorant of is the meaning of "-_- smh" characters cost to much? Can't say whats on your mind?

Just so you know, I know more about Islam and its prophet than most Muslims. I've studied the Qur'an, and Sirat Rasul Allah I read Hadiths I use only Islamic sources not Anti Islamic. so what ever you say back it up show me where I'm ignorant... And in the mean time while you are at it tell Amir Abdel Malik-Ali to stay off campus, he should get Frequent Flyer miles as often as he shows up on that campus, punk.

Stan S
Stan S

OK, here is the deal. You can't disrupt public events just because you don't like the message. That goes beyond free speech and the courts have ruled such. The DA was entirely correct to file charges. No one expects the 11 to go to jail but they should be held accountable under the law as they have been. We have the rule of law. Anything less is anarchy. If you disagree with a speaker there is a correct way to protest. In this incident the 11 were flat out wrong. Justice has been served.

Chris
Chris

Sorry OCW, you people just don't get it. The MCU has had a long and clearly accounted past of breaking the law and being general thugs. Numerous times on campus these people have shouted out insulting names, defacing property, and being culturally divisive. I am not surprised that the OCW would align itself with this group of thugs, and malcontents.. OCW has a history of being slanted and askew of facts and slanted journalistic practices.The law is the law, yes we may disagree with it.. but what is on the books is on the books and until it is deemed outdated or unconstitutional then it is what it is. Maybe someday you will hire some professional journalists, who do not have some sort of agenda to push, call dissenting readers racist names and epitaphs.. but one can dream right?

sanatanableeding
sanatanableeding

So here you defend the Irvine 11 and state they are protected by the 1st amendment, but 2 weeks ago you attacked the Councilman in the City of Orange for expressing himself under....the 1st amendment. Come on OC Weekly, you can't have it both ways.

Jeff Klives
Jeff Klives

Planning and going to a meeting to repeatedly shout at a speaker is not activism.

Standing outside with prepared materials on your criticisms of the speaker to hand out is activism. Working to bring a pro-Palestinian speaker to campus at a later date to share your perspective is activism. Posting a rebuttal to the speaker’s points after the event and sending it to the local papers and school papers is activism.

If this group had engaged in real activism, they could have enhanced the academic experience of our public universities instead of undermining it.

OC Christian
OC Christian

Oren was not shut down. He finished his speech. There is no UNILATERAL right to free speech. In a democracy, it must work both ways. I find it ironic that right wingers who whine about government intervention and fiscal irresponsibility are fine with Tony Rackauckas's wasting Orange County taxpayers' money on this. Now we know where they REALLY stand on the Constitution (more like stomp than stand, actually).

PatrickR
PatrickR

OC, bottom line is, it is a violation of the law to disrupt a public meeting. The law applies to all persons regardless of nationality, color, or sex. Add to that, this was a planned disruption by a bunch of terrorist group sympathesizers who had a past history of doing such thiings. Sorry, but the District Attorney does not do selective enforcement of the laws. What's good for you and me, is good for the Muslims.

Jeff Klives
Jeff Klives

A legitmate argument could be made that university discipline of the students would have been sufficient, and they should not have been criminally prosecuted.

Reasonable people can disagree about the degree of punishment due in this case and considerations of the expense of the prosecution.

But once the decision to prosecute was made, only convictions would uphold First Amendment values.

Jeff Klives
Jeff Klives

Penal code § 403 dictates that anyone who “willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly … not unlawful in its character … is guilty of a misdemeanor,” that the offenders must have “substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting,” and do not have to engage in violent or dangerous behavior in order to be charged.

They willfully disturbed and substantially impaired the meeting.

Logiconastick
Logiconastick

The Muslim Student Union said in emails they wanted to show the speaker "he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants." ....actually, yes, he can - that's democracy.

Imgemkr
Imgemkr

Shakeel Syed, of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. After sentence was passed on "Irvine 10"

"I believe this will be used as precedent now to suppress speech and dissent throughout the country. This is the beginning of the death of democracy."

What is this Jerk talking about Islam IS the end of democracy. There is NO freedom of speech in Islam..... period!

James
James

And thank you Mr. Ergo for joining the ranks of the delusional propagandists common in political activism.

Since you are an incurable propagandist, I'm sure you will admit that "the first casualty of propaganda is the truth."

As far as referring to me as a racist...please take up that issue with my Mexican relatives. Surprise...yes some of my close relatives are Mexican via marriage. Does that bother you?

I rest my case. :)

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

Ergo
Ergo

It's good you rest your case because you don't have any.Your case rests solely on tribal fears, not any factual evidence.

The jury of public opinion has already ruled against you: Guilty As Charged.So, no need to waste any more breeath on it.Case closed.

debaser
debaser

You still have failed to address any of Mr. Gilchrist's points. The case is far from closed and you're a poor advocate for your side. Simply typing "Case closed" doesn't make it so. Making a compelling argument might do the trick, but it's one you haven't learned.

James
James

"Free speech is not absolute. It does not include the right to suppress or cancel another person's right to free speech. If it did, then no one would have the right to free speech." --Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner

Brilliant! These two common sense sentences in Dan Wagner's closing arguments say it all. Hats off to the Orange County District Attorney for bringing this case forward. The issue goes right to the very cornerstone of the founding of our nation.

A guilty verdict will help establish the acceptable protocol that will allow all of us to engage in free speech in a manner that will not suppress the basic human rights of another person. I have never known the concept of free speech to mean that someone can use that right to prevent another from engaging in that same precious right. If that were so, then the right to free speech would be reserved only to the meanest thugs wielding the biggest clubs.

If convicted, however, I think any punitive sentences against the students should be suspended. For years universities across the nation have repeatedly allowed a handful of campus dissidents to strip others of free speech through such behavior. The students in the instant case were most likely following established behavior patterns subliminally condoned by many universities in the past. They were simply misled by the notion that free speech was only for them in that auditorium at that particular time, not for Ambassador Oren or anyone supporting the ambassador.

Let's see what the jury of peers says.

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

JeffKlives
JeffKlives

You make very good points.

It is such a twisted distortion when some try claim that the rights of free speech of the students has been violated because of these charges.

The event was a lecture by Michael Oren. People didn't go to hear the students scream at him.

As Ferris on the Daily Trojan said so well:

"Shouting down a speaker is not activism. Standing outside with prepared materials on your criticisms of the speaker to hand out is activism. Working to bring a Palestinian speaker to campus is activism. Posting a rebuttal to the speaker’s points after the fact is activism.

If this group had engaged in real activism, they could have enhanced the academic experience of our public universities instead of undermining it."

Ergo
Ergo

Thanks for pitching in. This endorsement of prosecution by Gilchrist, a well known racist, is a great argument AGAINST it.

Imgemkr
Imgemkr

You don't know any thing about real Islam do you?

Chipper
Chipper

Aside the ad hominem attack, what do you disagree with in the text that he wrote?

antiwar
antiwar

Imagmkr,The real issue concerns people at a open public meeting, with the public invited, with public officials speaking in a public tax payer supported university and a tax payer supported forum.

In such a public forum people have the right to jeer, hoot, holler, heckle, laugh clap as they see fit. This is precisely a first amendment issue which you and our fellow America hating cons are deliberately avoiding in your hatred of Moslem Americans.

aw

Imgemkr
Imgemkr

I don't hate Muslim AmericansI just stated the facts and that hurt your feelings.....

They were being disruptive they were not on the street they were in an auditorium where the rules of engagement were spelled out before hand and they broke them....

You guys haven't a clue.

I'm sure you are more than happy to let people like Amir Abdel Malik-Ali spew out hatred on that same "public tax payer supported university" which he does.

Chipper
Chipper

So next time a student group invites a speaker on the campus that I disagree with I should get a group of say 100 friends and do inside and have them one by one yell and scream every three minutes during the lecture. Hey, if it is fair for these guys, why shouldn't be fair for me?

antiwar
antiwar

When Iran president comes to UCI i am sure you will find more than a 100 friends jeering at him through out his speech. If you dont like the constitution feel free to change it.

aw

geoff kl
geoff kl

believe me.

if the 10 are found not guilty...that is exactly what i will do

i will choose what people should be allowed to hear

i will become a god

Sjhnolaw
Sjhnolaw

Since when does the criminal system play a role in rude behavior. Last I heard, California was having financial difficulties, yet we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a trial because some college students were outspoken . Come on last spend tax money on real criminals. Let's face it if this was anyone else they interrupted, no one would be charged.

Chipper
Chipper

"One email contained the minutes from an MSU meeting, which stated that the goal of the protest was to "send the speaker a message" and show him that "he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants." Included were plans to "disrupt the whole event" and "shut down with individual disruption."

----------------------------------------------------

I wonder how many of the people who are supporting the students think this was a good thing?

Dick
Dick

very few of their supporters would encourage this behavior, but we'd all fight for their right to engage in it free from criminal prosecution.

Chipper
Chipper

Can you expand on that? I am not sure I understand.

geoff kl
geoff kl

ms woo

what irony are you referring to?

closing arguments are usually theater, but that doesnt allow an atty to bring in something that is not germane to the case

was the juge's admonition to the spectators ironic? only if you think the judge proving the da's point, that there is a time and place for everything...is ironic

interesting how little space you give to the da's closing, which lasted a good 2.5 hours, including rebuttal

how much does cair pay you?

Dick
Dick

actually attorneys are allowed to present items of personal and/or common experience to make a point.

geoff kl
geoff kl

where did you get your law degree from?

judge ruled...ruling stands

Jasmine Firdose
Jasmine Firdose

I'm going to file charges against all the internet trolls who, every single day, disrupt the legitimate discourse that should be happening in the comments of all these articles on teh interwebs.

Seriously, go dress up in white sheets and burn a cross in front of a mosque. Stop hating halfway.

geoff kl
geoff kl

who are you ranting at? there isnt one troll or racist comment here

Peter W.
Peter W.

I support the Irvine 11, or Irvine 10, or whatever you want to call them.

May the Ghost of Osama bin Laden visit the home of Tony Rackauckas and his family.

geoff kl
geoff kl

looking more and more like a hung jury

which is sad, as the emails are pretty clear in their intentions

JeffKlives
JeffKlives

Good summary.

I would have liked to have seen a sentence or two on how students misrepresented the role the MSU played when questioned by the university. And how a bunch of UC Irvine professors signed a petition that said that the students were wrong for trying to prevent a speaker from being heard and the university punished them sufficiently. The petition said that criminally prosecuting with misdemeanor charges will be divisive to the community and asked for the charges to be dismissed or the students plea bargain to community service.

I appreciate you taking the quotes from the emails - "he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants." Included were plans to "disrupt the whole event" and "shut down with individual disruption."

geoff kl
geoff kl

those same professors objected to the university punishing the students

Imgemkr
Imgemkr

Why are the "Irvine 11"complaining about free speech violations? They violated the speakers right. But that is Islam... dualism is at its core. Kafir have no rights, rights only apply to Muslims. When will America learn? Cast lead was justified, I say lets punish them with one year of living in Sderot, Israel.... No one seems to care about the victims of Islam.

 
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