“Irvine 11” now “Irvine 10” as charges are dropped for one student in ongoing free speech case

Two important updates have been noted in the case of the Irvine 11 — the eleven Muslim students of UC Irvine and UC Riverside who were arrested, detained and now face criminal charges after they nonviolently disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the US, in February 2010 —  as a trial is set to begin in mid-August.

After the students disrupted Oren’s speech, in which he defended Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-09 that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians including several hundred children, the students were handcuffed, escorted out of the conference room and arrested. The Orange County District Attorney’s office immediately launched an over-the-top criminal investigation, including a year of door-to-door inquiries to get testimonials from witnesses and the subpoenaing of the students’ emails. 

Following the arrests and investigations, the OC DA’s office told various media outlets on several different occasions that the students are “anti-Semitic, anarchists and likened them to the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the defense team for the Irvine 11. Following those abhorrent statements, in May of this year the defense team scored an important victory when they filed and won a court order that “restrains the prosecution and the defense from using the media to potentially inflame the jury pool of Orange County.”

Several days ago, both the defense and the prosecution teams agreed to drop the charges against one of the eleven students, Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, if he completes 40 hours of community service at a local soup kitchen. The students’ attorneys argued during a recent court hearing that “the DA filed the charges against Kebir using privileged information. They planned to ask the court to dismiss Kebir’s charges before the agreement was reached,” according to a report in the Daily Pilot on 21 July.

This comes on the heels of last month’s removal of the main investigator and several deputies from the DA’s prosecution team by an Orange County Supreme Court judge. Judge Peter Wilson cited “unauthorized use” by the prosecution of the defense team’s privileged client-attorney documents — including communications between the students and their lawyers. The Daily Pilot reported on 30 June that:

While looking through thousands of documents obtained through search warrants, [lead investigator Paul] Kelly came across communications between the Irvine 11 and their defense attorney, Reem Salahi. The defense identified 20,000 pages, deemed privileged by the judge, in the D.A.’s possession.

At least one email between Salahi and a student was used to bring new charges against that student.

Wilson said Kelly seemed unaware of the protocols that needed to be followed when he came across the privileged attorney-client communications.

… The Orange County district attorney’s office now has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that none of the evidence it plans to use was directly or indirectly obtained through privileged information, Wilson ruled.

The defense attorneys initially asked the court to recuse the D.A.’s office from the case altogether because, they argued, the use of the privileged information prejudiced the case against the students. The defense also said that it would be difficult for the prosecutors to argue the case fairly when considering the level of involvement top deputy district attorneys and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas himself have in the Irvine 11 case.

Wilson contended that the breach was not severe enough to remove the district attorney’s office.

Nonviolent disruptions of speeches have been held across the US (and across the globe) during events that have given Israeli officials a platform in recent years, especially in the wake of Israel’s 2008-09 attacks on Gaza. In Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, among other places, activists who have successfully disrupted speeches by touring Israeli officials have not faced charges, knowing that their actions are protected under the free speech amendment of the US Constitution. However, these free speech actions also come at a time when the US federal government is expanding its attacks on social justice and Palestine solidarity activists across the country

The Electronic Intifada will continue to update our readers on the ongoing case of the Irvine 11 — or, as it is now, the Irvine 10 — as the students go to trial in August. For more information and background on the case, visit the Stand With the Eleven solidarity website at www.irvine11.com.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).