Update: Electronic Intifada reports over twitter that the students will not be sentenced to jail time, but instead will have three years probation and will have to do 56 hours of community service at a non-profit. The probation will be dropped if the community service is completed within a year. EI tweets the judge said "defendants were motivated by their political beliefs. No jailtime."
Also: Jewish Voice for Peace has released the following statement:
'This is a shameful day for the legal system and the Jewish communal leaders who actively supported this unfair railroading of young Muslim students and unprecedented attack on everyone's right to free speech. How can it be that the Israeli ambassador enjoys more rights in the United States than do young Muslim citizens?
We hope this prompts some real soul-searching among those who actively supported the case against the Irvine students simply because they didn’t like what the students had to say about Israel's human rights record.
The principle of free expression for even unpopular speech, as it applies to all people, is fundamental to democracy. And it is never, ever OK to allow or support the unjust targeting of a minority group—which is what happened here. And frankly, as a religious and ethnic minority who was once a largely young immigrant population, Jews of all people should understand the need to protect minority rights.
Our young Jewish members engaged in a nearly identical protest of Israeli policies-only the venue was larger and the target was the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu. They were let off without even a mark. Their Muslim peers were tried and criminalized. What does this say about America today?
Original Post: This is a chilling decision and a very dangerous precedent. An Orange County court has found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors for a protest they held against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010. For background on the case see the Mondoweiss posts here, here and here. Also read Nora Barrows-Friedman's blog on Electronic Intifada, who has offered the best coverage of this case bar none.
From the LA Times:
In a case that garnered national attention over free-speech rights, the trial centered on conflicting views of who was being censored. Prosecutors argued that Ambassador Michael Oren was “shut down” when his speech was interrupted by students who took turns shouting preplanned phrases in a crowded UC Irvine ballroom.
Six defense attorneys argued that the students, seven from UC Irvine and three from UC Riverside, were only following the norm of other college protests and were being singled out.
A guilty verdict, the defense had said during the trial, could chill student activism and the free exchange of ideas at colleges nationwide.
University administrators disciplined some of the students involved and suspended the campus Muslim Student Union, whose members participated in the protest, for an academic quarter. The group is still on probation.
The case also has drawn the attention of a wide range of groups, including Muslim and Jewish organizations and civil libertarians. The trial began Sept. 7.
Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine's Law School, has said that although freedom of speech is not an absolute right, university sanctions were enough for the students.
But he also added that he believes criminal sanctions go too far.
Chemerinsky told The Times last week that "it makes no sense" to use such resources. "It's so minor."
Charges against one defendant were tentatively dismissed pending completion of 40 hours of community service at a local soup kitchen.