Irvine 11 Trial: Jury Deliberation Set To Begin
Closing arguments finished Tuesday in the trial of 10 Muslim students charged with misdemeanors for disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during an appearance at University of California, Irvine (UCI) last year.
Prosecutors began closing statements Monday in a Santa Ana courtroom. Orange County District Attorney Dan Wagner told jurors that the protesters interfered with Oren’s right to free speech, according to the Los Angeles Times. The protesters stood one by one and shouted as the ambassador tried to speak on United States-Israeli relations Feb. 8, 2010.
Defense attorneys gave their closing arguments Tuesday morning, followed by the prosecution’s rebuttal. The jury is expected to begin deliberation Wednesday.
Kifah Shah, a campaign spokeswoman for Stand with the Eleven, said defense attorneys emphasized both the protester's message and the manner in which they protested.
“Defense attorney Tarek Shawky said you cannot have conspiracy to engage in an unlawful act if what you’re doing is planning to be lawful,” Shah said. “Conspiracy means you’re intent on committing a crime and [the defense attorneys] are saying the defendants were engaging in a protest, not committing a crime.”
Shah said defense attorney Lisa Holder told the jury that the protesters are being prosecuted for what they said, not what they did.
The 10 defendants are charged with two misdemeanors of conspiracy to willfully commit a crime and disrupt a public meeting. They face up to six months in jail, community service or fines per misdemeanor count.
The students were protesting UCI's formal sponsorship and endorsement of Oren and Oren's participation and leadership in the bombing of the Gaza Strip, Shah said. The bombing campaign was called Operation Cast Lead.
“Speech is both a shield and a sword, both sides claim free speech,” said Jonathan Kotler, associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California. “The problem is that courts have never held it to be a supreme right.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, both the defense and prosecutors called on constitutional protections during the closing arguments.
Wagner called the defendants censors.
Kotler said the defendants did act as censors but that doesn’t necessarily make it illegal.
“Any time you stop someone from speaking, it’s censoring,” Kotler said. “Even if it’s four people sitting around a table drinking Cokes and one stops another from speaking. Is that necessarily unlawful? No. That’s not a legal argument, it’s an emotional argument.”
The group of protesters was originally called the “Irvine 11,” but charges were dropped against one individual. According to Shah, a district attorney had used privileged documents to prosecute one of the defendants. All charges against him will be dropped after he completes 40 hours of community service.
Eight of the protesters were UCI students, three were students at University of California, Riverside.
Shah said her campaign has seen people from across the community come together to stand behind these students.
“A reason why a lot of people have come together is because it harkens back to injustices that have happened in the past,” Shah said. “We just hope that moving forward, we take this as a lesson to better our country and our society, to uphold the morals and values that this country’s built upon.”
Reach assistant news editor Agnus-Dei Farrant here.
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