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Activists protest 'Irvine 11' investigation

Marcher contends that indicting the university students 'would have a severe chilling effect on the exercise of free speech.'

February 01, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com
(Kent Treptow )

SANTA ANA — Tom Reinhart-Marean marched with 40 to 50 demonstrators to the street corner outside of the Orange County district attorney's office here to condemn a reported Orange County Grand Jury investigation into college students who interrupted a speech by an Israeli official last year at UC Irvine.

"Indicting these students would have a severe chilling effect on the exercise of free speech on campus and elsewhere," said Reinhart-Marean, a Newport Beach resident and former pastor at First United Methodist Church in Orange.

The so-called "Irvine 11" were detained by UCI police Feb. 8, 2010, after repeatedly interrupting a campus speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

The eight UCI students and three from UC Riverside were reprimanded by their respective universities but never charged with a crime.

The Orange County Grand Jury is investigating the 11 for potential criminal charges, said Los Angeles attorney Carol Sobel, who represents six MSU-supporters who were subpoenaed and testified before the Grand Jury in January.

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It is unclear whether the investigation will lead to charges.

Grand Jury investigations are confidential, and the district attorney's office cannot comment on them, said Susan Schroeder, the D.A.'s chief of staff.

A student conduct committee ruled last year's protestors were affiliated with the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and suspended the campus organization, claiming it had a role in the incident.

The MSU suspension has since expired, but the organization is on probation until December 2012.

With signs, like "Will I be prosecuted for protesting?", Tuesday's demonstrators argued that authorities were trying to muzzle political speech.

"When racism is invited to the university as an invited guest, we have a right to say, 'No, we're not going to accept this,'" said Katy Escobar, of the Students for Justice in Palestine at UCI.

Jewish groups have in turn criticized the MSU students for allegedly planning the disruption.

UCI comparative literature professor Rei Terada joined the street corner rally, telling the group that last year's protest was not only legal, it was necessary, considering Oren — who has been criticized for his positions on the treatment of Palestinians — speaks nationwide.

"Only that kind of speech can lead the powerless," she said. "The time and place is a part of the speech. It unlocks the full potential of political speech …they took the opportunity they had to put their speech in the same place that Oren put his."

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