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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

Irvine 11: Sentenced to community service, no jailtime; attorneys prepare appeal

At approximately 2:35pm this afternoon in the Orange County Superior Courthouse in Santa Ana, California, the presiding judge in the Irvine 11 trial, Peter Wilson, announced his sentence following a jury’s decision to convict the students on both misdemeanor counts with which they were charged (“conspiracy to disrupt a public meeting” and “disruption of a public meeting”). 

The Irvine 11 held a nonviolent civil disobedience protest during a speech by an Israeli official in February 2010 and have been fighting the charges in court since late August.

Wilson stated to the defendants and their attorneys — with nearly one hundred people present in the courtroom — that although the jury decided on guilty verdicts, he would not be sending the students to jail for the protest in which they were involved. He said that the defendants have no prior records, are productive members of their community, and acted on their beliefs, so jailtime would be “inappropriate.” 

He ordered the students to serve 56 hours of community service at a non-profit organization and said they were under a 3-year probation. But if they complete their service before the end of January 2012, the probation would only be for one year, and would end on 24 September 2012. 

There was a palpable mood of relief in the room from friends, family members, and supporters, who just two hours before had heard that the jury returned two guilty verdicts for every defendant. When the verdicts were read by the court clerk, several people immediately burst into tears, and others stood up and walked out. One person said “there is no justice.”

Following the sentencing, the students and their attorneys held a press conference outside the courthouse, with a plethora of news media present. The attorneys and the Irvine 11 (and their families) have been under a gag order to the media for the past several months, and this was the first opportunity to hear from the students and the attorneys and ask questions.

Student Khalid Akari said:

On February 8, 2010, I stood up against the face of oppression. I stood up for the children of Palestine; children who have no voice. That day, I stood up for a purpose. I stood up for conscience. I had a message that day, a peaceful message. 

Mohammad Qureashi:

As people around the world are fighting to seek a voice, I too will fight on, to seek my voice and to be heard. Because this is not a right that can be taken [away] by a district attorney; this right has been given to us by God. 

Taher Herzallah:

My message is to all those activists who have been watching this story closely. All of those who speak truth to power. And all of those who challenge the status quo. Do not let this case deter you. Do not let this case falter your activism. Make this the platform to intensify activism on the Palestine issue in this country. 

Shaheen Nassar:

Despite the prejudicial nature of the charges filed against us, and the actions of the University administration, I want to say that I respect the court’s decision, however I would like to emphasize how proud I am of my actions on February 8 [2010]. I intend to continue my activism, to give voice to the voiceless. Including my cousins, who died during the Gaza massacre. And the 1,400 other civilians who lost their lives during that massacre as well. May God rest their souls. 

Mohamed Abdelgany, Asaad Traina and Aslan Akhtar also spoke passionately and eloquently to the crowd. The full video of the press conference will be uploaded this weekend. 

Even though the sentence was relatively light, the attorneys said that they would immediately be filing an appeal to overturn the decision, and would take it all the way to the Supreme Court in order to protect legitimate protest and free speech. Attorney Lisa Holder, expressing pride in her clients, said that the students “stood up for their conscience, they stood up for their beliefs, and they stand out in a world that has become very apathetic.”

Holder added that she was excited to work with them in the future to help “overturn certain laws which are not fair and which do not allow us to voice our beliefs and to intently voice our conscience.”

Holder:

We will be appealing this decision. And we expect that there will be some changes in the laws to make room for this type of dissent, which is valid, which is important, which is critical to our democracy. 

Attorney Dan Mayfield added:

Remember what the judge said in the court: that part of his reason for giving the sentence that he gave — which was a very lenient and fair sentence — was because the judge found that the young men in this case were motivated by their sincere beliefs.

[Additionally,] there is already a movement which has developed in just the 30-45 minutes since we left court: a movement of people who are pledging to do volunteer work alongside these young men. So when they do their 56 hours of volunteer work, they will bring other people with them to do volunteer work in our community. I’m very, very proud to be part of this group.

The District Attorney’s lead prosecutor, Dan Wagner, stated outside the courtroom after sentencing was read that he had wanted the students to serve jailtime so it would deter future protesters.

Khalid Akari told The Electronic Intifada outside the courtroom that the guilty verdict, though he was naturally unhappy with it, has not deterred his activism. “Not at all,” he said. “I stood up for a reason that day. It would be pointless if I stopped doing it, so I will continue doing it.”

Taher Herzallah said that he was concerned that if they took a plea bargain at the beginning, and did not fight this in court, that it may not have inspired such outcry from students and the community at large. “We shouldn’t be scared,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “We should be encouraged to do these things. I hope this whole process encourages people do stand up, not discourage them.”

When asked what message he had to the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and siege, Herzallah said that he wanted to address the mothers who have lost their sons, to those under attack. 

We are with you. We did not forget about you. Here in America we’re struggling and we’re willing to make the sacrifice to give you any ease or comfort as much as possible. The battleground in America with the Zionists is not over. This was just the beginning, and we are ready to continue.

The Electronic Intifada will provide updates in the appeals process. For more information, visit the Stand With the Eleven solidarity website at www.irvine11.com.

Comments

The Irvine 11 should do community service with a non-profit organization that works on issues of Palestine solidarity, and I would add, that they could do it with such an organization that is active on issues of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). I assume they must do this community service in the state of California. I'm sure they can find some such organization or have someone create it if it is not currently in existence. 56 hours from each of them!! Can you imagine what they could do with all those hours dedicated to building a movement! Let that be a lesson to the injustice of the legal system and that sham judgement. It would really be ironic :)

Here’s a crazy idea: How about acting like bright-minded, intelligent people, letting the man speak and then nailing him with some devastating questions at the Q & A?

The sentence was Goldilocks - not too harsh, not too lenient. Let’s just hope the next time we hear from these individuals, it will be in hearing them take part in an intelligent debate.

http://www.mikecornelison.com/...

Sometimes a protest was preferable. I really don't think we should debate whether Palestinians deserve human rights - we should debate how we support their struggle for freedom, Did I miss the major 'debates' between civil rights marchers and the KKK?

There's always a place for civil disobedience, but by it's very definition it involves getting arrested and the emails promoting the shoutdown show they were aware they were breaking CA law, so no one should go crying for these guys like their rights were stripped or something. They made a conscious choice to try to shoutdown the ambassador and his right to free speech and UCI's right to hold a meeting without it getting hijacked, so no tears for them.

The other point I made is that in this case, they're winning nobody over to their side with these kinds of tactics. May play real well with those who are already down with the cause, but for the vast majority, this is not winning anybody over.

So 'no tears' for all those who have suffered at the hands of the law over the years for standing up for freedom. Creatures like you would've looked at whipped or broken slaves, or women jailed for fighting for the suffrage, with the same foul words 'so no one should go crying for these guys like their rights were stripped or something'. The voice of indefference to suffering through the ages. No-one should try to win over the likes of you. You are a damaged human being.
World-wide the standing of Israel in public opinion polls is already half-pariah, half-polecat. http://bit.ly/plQhqE . This is due largely to Israel's crimes becoming better known even in the US http://bit.ly/oka6bf

From what I remember, the greatest leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. never tried shouting anyone down. To compare these people shouting down an ambassador to something like MLK putting his life on the line with every freedom march he made is ridiculous. I shed no tears for these guys because the emails encouraging people to show up and shout down the ambassador mentioned there was a possibility of arrest, so they knew what they were getting in to. I think their actions are doing nothing to help win people over to their side, but even if you were to agree with their tactics, you certainly shouldn't be crying for them like they're some martyrs for the cause. Martyrs sentenced to community service?

You are the only one here to use - to then sneer at - the term 'martyrs'. Again, no comparison with those taking on the Southern racist establishment, except that they stood against a similar evil - you called it segregation, Palestinians call it occupation, colonialism and apartheid (as does Desmond Tutu and ex-President Jimmy Carter). Simple really - you are on the wrong side of a struggle for freedom. What did your dad do in the struggle against apartheid in its South African version?

What you mean to say is that they're not winning you over for their tactics. I on the other hand gave money to their defense and will support such actions in the future. I also wrote the University of California General Council to the Regents to express my dismay that UC Irvine handled the students as they did, since they started this entire fiasco, and since they have never disciplined "pro-Israeli" students for interrupting speakers like Norman Finkelstein. The University of California has no business reproducing double standards on speech. After all, it was students at UC Berkeley who led the Free Speech Movement and altered campus rules regarding political speech on campus. It is this legacy that every UC campus represents, whether they want to embrace it today or not. Until the University of California can stand for itself I have stopped donations to two campuses both of which are my alma maters.

So, their tactics have persuaded some of us to not only defend these UC Irvine students but to defend the University of California and what it stands for more generally.

Like I said, I'm sure it plays well to those who are already activist for the cause, but trying to silence an ambassador by shouting him down instead of waiting for the Q & A to nail him in an intelligent debate, that's just not going to play well with most Americans.

What seems to be lost on those who call the Irvine 11 protest an attack on free speech is that Oren was not there to speak his mind. He was there to deliver the official line from the Israeli govt. It’s my understanding that ambassadors do not speak contra to their government’s position. The Irvine 11 were not protesting Oren himself… they were protesting the presence of the state of Israel on their campus. Other protests were staged against Israeli soldiers speaking in their own capacity, and they were not shouted down… the students simply put tape over their mouths and walked out on the speaker.

Freedom of speech is to protect individuals, not nation-states. I can’t imagine Iranian gay, women or Baha’i students shouting down Ahmadinejad would be met with similar hostility from attorney generals or Israel advocacy groups or that Mike Cornelison guy above, considering he refers to A as "Little Hitler, Jr." on his blog. The Irvine 11 were prosecuted because in US officialdom Israel advocacy is treated with a special favoritism. The notion that this is about Oren’s freedom of speech, as individual or ambassador, can not be taken seriously.

By the way, I wouldn't mind if someone critiqued my argument here from a legal standpoint.

Keep up the struggle. Juries and even judges here in the UK are finding Israeli crimes intolerable and supporting activists who take direct action, even to the extent of smashing up arms factories supplying the Israeli murder machine. See, for example here http://bit.ly/gt9wqv or here http://bit.ly/pgVr4Y