Opening statements begin this afternoon in the misdemeanor criminal trial of the Irvine 11, whittled down to 10 Muslim student-defendants from the University of California at Irvine and Riverside since the February 2010 speech at UCI by Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren that drew the charges.
The jury is expected to begin hearing the opening arguments at 1:30 p.m. today in Judge Peter Wilson's courtroom at the Central Justice Center in downtown Santa Ana.
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 are charged with disrupting and/or conspiring to disrupt a public speech by Oren. They have pleaded not guilty.
They were arrested as Oren was being interrupted 16 times while delivering a lecture in the UCI Student Center on Feb. 8, 2010. The case hinges on whether the jury decides the free-speech rights of the students trumps those of Oren. Their attorneys argue Oren's speech was political, so the student's should be protected under the U.S. Constitution. But no less than constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UCI's law school, has opined that it was Oren's rights that were violated.
Convictions could bring sentences ranging from probation and community service to months in jail.
The 11th defendant, 20-year-old Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, settled his case in July, agreeing to complete 40 hours of community service at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa by Sept. 23 in exchange for having the charges against him dropped.
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The students and the Muslim Student Union chapter many of them belong to were previously disciplined by UCI's administration, and a coalition of local and national peace, Islamic, educator and human rights organizations has stated that's enough.
Support for the students will be heard on the courthouse steps before today's hearing by representatives from Stand with the Eleven, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), UCI's faculty, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Other groups, most notably those that are pro-Israel, have applauded Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' decision to prosecute the students.