A California jury delivered a guilty verdict against 10 Muslim students and placed them on a year’s probation for disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the Irvine campus of the University of California last year.
A government attorney labeled the students’ behavior as “thuggery,” but Muslim leaders were furious over the verdict that that one local group said killed the “heart of America.”
The students heckled and shouted at Oren for more than 20 minutes as he tried to talk. One student stood up before Oren could talk and said, "You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide."
Oren was forced to leave the lecture hall until university authorities could lead the protesters out of the lecture hall.
Each of the students was sentenced to three years of probation, 56 hours of community service and fines. They could have been jailed for up to one year.
"In a civilized society, we cannot allow lawful assemblies to be shut down by a small group of people using the heckler's veto," said Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Aljazeera published an opinion article, with a disclaimer that it does not necessarily express its views, under the headline “The Irvine 11: Islamophobia is alive and well.” Only 10 students were convicted in court because charges were dismissed against an 11th Muslim after he completed community service.
“Prosecuting the Irvine 11 has reeked of the anti-Arab, Islamophobic, anti-Palestine and pro-Israeli stance that we are more and more forced to accept as the status-quo, as the US moves further away from what might be considered a democracy,” charged the writer, journalist and activist Kristen Ess Schurr, who is a Los Angeles coordinator for the CODEPINK group.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, told the Times, “I believe the heart of America has died today. This is clearly an indication that Muslims are permanent foreigners, at least in Orange County."
The students claimed they were exercising their freedom of speech but received a tongue-lashing from university officials for denying Oren’s freedom to speak. The university also disciplined some of the students and suspended the Muslim Students Union, but officials objected to the criminal proceedings.