Muslim UC Students Convicted For Disrupting Israeli Diplomat Visit

SANTA ANA (CBS) — A group of University of California students was found guilty of misdemeanor charges on Friday for disrupting a speech at UC Irvine by the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.

KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports the verdict sparked an emotional outcry from both sides of the case.

The students, many of whom belong to the Muslim Student Union on campus, were each convicted of one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of disturbing a meeting.

Each student could be sentenced to up to six months in jail, probation with community service or fines.

Seven of the defendants are UC Irvine students — Mohamad Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19.

Three defendants are UC Riverside students — Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; and Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21.

An 11th defendant, UC Irvine student Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, has completed 40 hours of community service, and he is expected to have the charges against him dismissed during an Oct. 7 hearing, according to his attorney.

The six-man, six-woman jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon in a trial that began Sept. 7.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner told jurors during the trial that the actions of the students amounted to a “heckler’s veto” of Michael Oren’s Feb. 8, 2010, speech on the UCI campus.

Defense attorneys countered with free-speech arguments, claiming the students did not violate misdemeanor laws governing public meetings as prosecutors have alleged.

The students planned a protest mirroring one done at the University of Chicago in which students disrupted an appearance from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In a coordinated effort, the students stood up and bellowed slogans at Oren such as “Michael Oren, you’re a war criminal,” followed by cheers from supporters. They capped it off with a loud, mass walkout of students.

Wagner argued that the rules of the meeting were spelled out when the students were admonished after the first couple of interruptions by UCI professor Mark Petracca and UCI Chancellor Michael Drake.

Wagner had to prove to jurors that the students were aware of the rules, conspired to break them and had no other outlet to carry out their protest.

Thirty-five minutes into the event, Oren was 2 minutes and 21 seconds into his speech due to all the interruptions, he said.

“I submit to you that is substantial interference with a meeting,” he said. “The show could not go on.”

Defense attorney Dan Mayfield argued that the protests altogether took about 4 minutes and 35 seconds, but added, “Let’s call it five minutes.”

The event was supposed to run from 5:30 to 7 p.m., but a private gathering with Oren and campus supporters went long, Mayfield said.

He also argued that the students readily and without incident surrendered to campus police, and the walkout of all of the students’ supporters happened just after 6:30 p.m., before the event was supposed to end, so Oren had time to finish his “canned speech.”

Defense attorney Reem Salahi argued that the students were warned before the event that no disruptions would be tolerated, meaning they were effectively denied an outlet for their free-speech rights, which should lead to an acquittal.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

  • DAX

    Yes there is freedom of speech in this country but there is also freedom to conduct bussiness or meetings etc. with rules and regulations that these Morons violated so they will get what they deserve, which will be a lot less than what they would get in their own countries.

  • rk

    Look elsewhere for sympathy cause I do not support your stupid little protest. Did you forget? Israel is our friend, Muslims are something we tolerate, but in the end all your fellow Muslims hate us overseas. I certaintly have not forgotten that.

  • sandyi

    I guess our justice system work. In this country we have freedom to speak–if you don’t want to hear the lecturer don’t attend the meeting. Unlike the arab and muslim countries we do not have to riot, disrupt or kill the opposition.

    If these “people” want to shout someone down why don’t they try it in any arab or muslim country? I guess getting shot at or hung does not appeal to them. They are here (or their parents came here) because even with all our problems we are 1000 times better than any arab/muslim country when it comes to freedoms.
    Lets hope they learn their lesson and can disapprove of someone without acting like animals.Lets also hope they have to serve the 6 months in jail. It will give them time to think about how juvenile they acted.

  • tcn

    Wow. These comments are about as xenophobic and hateful as they come. Regardless of whether you agree with the verdict (I most certainly do NOT), to resort to ridiculous stereotypes and claims about who “we” are friends with and who “we tolerate” — as if there was no such thing as a Muslim American — to put the word “people” in scare quotes and tell them they acted like “animals,” to celebrate the “freedoms” of a country while promoting imprisonment as punishment for a student protest — this is beyond shameful. This is exactly what these students and many like them must deal with daily.

  • Igor Doublebubblevich.

    deport them they own all the gas stations and most 7-11 stores throughout the U.. They are notorious for scamming people on their winning lotto tickets:RE: DATELINE, mnbc CHRIS HANSON.

  • Karen

    I think their community service punishment should revolve around free speech – as in – we all have the right to free speech.

    I am so glad they were convicted of misdemeanors. They need to respect everyone’s free speech, not just their own.

  • jkeyner

    Freedom is a hard thing for religiously controlled people to understand or accept. Sheep waiting to have a religious leader tell them what to do since peer pressure controls there every move.

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