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‘Irvine 11’ students found guilty [UPDATE: SENTENCING]

by Kelsey Duckett, Contributing Writer

September 23, 2011 | 5:10 pm

Eight of the ten Muslim college students from University of California, Irvine charged with unlawfully disrupting a speech by Israel's ambassador to the U.S. last year, listen to their attorneys speak after they were convicted at a court in Santa Ana, California on Sept. 23.  Photo by REUTERS/Alex Gallardo

Eight of the ten Muslim college students from University of California, Irvine charged with unlawfully disrupting a speech by Israel's ambassador to the U.S. last year, listen to their attorneys speak after they were convicted at a court in Santa Ana, California on Sept. 23. Photo by REUTERS/Alex Gallardo

[UPDATED: 3:00 p.m.]  This story has been updated to add the recent sentencing of the convicted students.

After two days of deliberation, the jury in the “Irvine 11” case returned a verdict. An Orange County jury on Friday found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors, conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given on Feb. 8, 2010, by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine.

As the verdict was read Friday morning, several women broke down in tears and others walked out of Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson’s courtroom. As the gallery showed a great deal of emotion, the students remained calm and had no reaction.

Two hours later, Wilson sentenced each of the 10 defendants to three years of informal probation and 53 hours of community service.

Popularly known as “Irvine 11” — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — the case has stirred a heated and sensitive debate on free-speech rights. On one side, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down.” On the other, six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech.

Reem Salahi, one of the defense attorneys, representing two of the students, said, “This is merely an admonition to be polite. But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite.”

Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services President and CEO Shalom C. Elcott said, “The verdict reaffirms that the Muslim Student Union’s planned and systematic use of disruptions to trample on the free speech of others crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance. While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ ”

Shalom said he will continue to advocate for “constructive dialogue in place of the hateful rhetoric that’s been used under the guise of free speech. It is counterproductive to any and all efforts to ensure the free exchange of ideas.”

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, disagrees with Shalom, calling the “Irvine 11” guilty verdict the “death of democracy in our country.”

Ameena Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “When history books are written and this case comes to its final conclusion ... the ‘Irvine 11’ will stand alongside other civil rights heroes.

“We were remaining optimistic and hopeful that justice would prevail ... I hope that this case goes forward and that free speech prevails at the end of the day. At this point, we’re all losing — we’re all losing our rights.”

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