‘Irvine 11’: Prosecutor calls verdict a victory for free speech
As protesters took to Twitter to express disappointment and anger at the conviction of 10 Muslim students over a campus protest last year, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas called the verdict a clean victory for free speech.
“Today, an Orange County jury sent a strong message that 1st Amendment rights belong to every American and we will not tolerate a small band of people who want to hijack our freedoms,” the district attorney said Friday in a prepared statement.
Rackauckas said the actions of the students – who became known collectively as the Irvine 11 – amounted to “organized thuggery.”
The students were convicted Friday of conspiring to disrupt -- and then disrupting -- a speech at UC Irvine by Israel's Ambassador Michael Oren last year.
The case drew national attention as the prosecution charged that the students had deprived the ambassador of the right to free speech and defense lawyers said their clients were merely following in the footsteps of generations of college students who expressed themselves through protest.
Hundreds – and perhaps thousands – of Twitter users expressed outrage over the convictions and the American Civil Liberties Union said it was troubled by the verdict, and equally disturbed by the district attorney’s decision to take the case to court.
Rackauckas saw it far differently.
“This is censorship by a few and it is illegal," he said. "The defendants acted as censors to block the free flow of ideas and infringed on the rights of 700 people who had gone to the campus that evening…. History requires us to draw a line in the sand against this sort of organized thuggery.”
Photo: Several of the Muslim students found guilty of disrupting a speech at UC Irvine. They were sentenced to probation Friday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times