(JTA) — A California jury found 10 Muslim students guilty of misdemeanors for disrupting a 2010 campus speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
In an incident that drew national attention, 11 Muslim students had stood one by one and interrupted a February 2010 speech by Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine. Oren twice walked off the stage as students shouted “mass murderer!” and “war criminal!” before they were hauled out of the room by campus police. A planned Q&A session after the address was dropped. The Orange County jury on Friday found the 10 students guilty of two misdemeanor charges for conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting the speech.
The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine, which organized the heckling, was suspended for a year by the school for violating its code of conduct, but four months later the suspension was changed to probation on appeal. About a year afterward, the Orange County district attorney’s office brought misdemeanor charges against the students for the disruptions. One later got the charges dismissed by pledging to perform community service.
The charges created a fierce debate on campuses about the line between student activism and illegal behavior. Arguments at the trial largely revolved around two differing views of freedom of speech. Prosecutor Dan Wagner described the students as “censors” who utilized the “heckler’s veto.”
“This is about freedom of speech,” Wagner said in his closing statement. “That’s why were all here.” Defense attorneys described the charges as an attempt to chill political speech on campus.
The jury began deliberations at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the verdict was reached Friday morning.
The students face up to six months in prison and a fine.