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Prosecution: Irvine 11 violated ambassador's right to free speech

About 200 spectators, with more turned away for lack of seats, attended the morning's closing statements for the case.

September 19, 2011|By Lauren Williams and Nicole Santa Cruz
  • College students Aminah Rahman, 20, left, and Sarah Assaf, 19, show their support for the Irvine 11 during a gathering of community leaders outside the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana on Monday.
College students Aminah Rahman, 20, left, and Sarah Assaf,… (Gina Ferazzi, LOS…)

SANTA ANA — Ten Muslim college students censored the Israeli ambassador to the United States when he tried to give an address atUC Irvine, a prosecutor argued in closing statements of the so-called Irvine 11 trial on Monday.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said the protesters interfered with Ambassador Michael Oren's right to free speech by temporarily disrupting his February 2010 campus address.

"Who is the censor in this case?" he asked the jury. "Right there — 10 of them."

Wagner said actions by the sevenUC Irvine and three UC Riverside students amounted to a "heckler's veto."

"This is about freedom of speech," Wagner said. "This is why we're all here."

Defense attorneys also called on Constitutional protections in their closing arguments, saying the district attorney was chilling political speech by prosecuting the protesters after the fact.

In her closing statements, defense attorney Reem Salahi said that while politeness works "when you visit your grandmother," such courtesy isn't necessary in a university setting, where ideas are freely exchanged.

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To make a point about the defendants' shouting during Oren's speech, defense attorney Dan Mayfield stood at the back of the large courtroom and shouted to jurors, saying that the university ballroom was three to four times the size of the courtroom.

"Of course you speak loudly," Mayfield said.

The prosecution used pre-speech instructions from UCI administrators to argue that the students had ample opportunity to share their opinions but they chose instead to break the law.

"Yes, protesters have a longstanding tradition on campuses, we all know that," Wagner said, adding that the law also protects a "marketplace of ideas." "Truth will win in a competitive atmosphere. To commit censorship breaks down that marketplace."

He also played for jurors a video of the moderator explaining audience rules prior to Oren's address.

"We expect and we relish spirited discussion, but we also have the highest expectations for civility and respect — we expect nothing less," the moderator said in the video. "This is after all not the street corner, it is a university."

Orange County Superior Court was packed with about 200 spectators, including parents, student supporters, interfaith community members and teachers. More were turned away.

At times, the venue grew raucous, with supporters applauding arguments made by an Irvine 11 attorney.

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