Last Friday, in a resounding victory for free speech rights, a jury convicted 10 Muslim students for disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on February 8, 2010 at the University of California, Irvine. The jury also convicted the students of conspiring to disrupt the ambassador because they stood up, one after the other, and shouted prepared statements, such as "You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!" and "propagating murder is not an expression of free speech," which elicited cheers from supporters. Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson sentenced the defendants to 56 hours of community service and three years of informal probation, which could be reduced to one year if the defendants complete their community service by January 31, 2012. Each student was also ordered to pay $270 in fines. Wilson noted that the defendants' actions did not merit jail time because they were "motivated by their beliefs and did not disrupt for the sake of disrupting."
Prosecutors in the case contended that the protest by the "Irvine 11″ (one student agreed to community service earlier in the proceedings and was not subject to the final judgment) had been carefully planned, noting that emails exchanged among members of the Muslim Student Union prior to their demonstration revealed students were aware they could be arrested. They further argued that the orchestrated disruption amounted to censorship, infringing on the rights of the 700 people who had gone to the event to hear Mr. Oren. The program was cut short as a result of the heckling, despite repeated calls from campus officials for the students to behave.