Each of the 11 students who disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech at the University of California, Irvine in February 2010 were charged with one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one count of misdemeanor disturbance of a meeting on Friday.
The charges could mean anything from probation and community service to fines to six months in prison, if convicted.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas explained that this is an issue that extends beyond free speech. "These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting," Rackauckas said. "We cannot tolerate a pre-planned violation of the law, even if the crime takes place on a school campus and even if the defendants are college students."
The defendants are Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, 20; Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19.
All 11 students are scheduled to be arraigned on March 11. Their attorney, Jacqueline Goodman, said they will plead not guilty.
The university disciplined the students, but the details have not been released. University spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said university officials believed they "thoroughly and fairly investigated and adjudicated the matter last year. Conduct violations were addressed fully, consistent with the guidelines of the student code of conduct. Since the university's resolution of this matter in the summer of 2010, our community has continued to build bridges of understanding and foundations for respectful and meaningful dialogue."
The charges are generating a heated response. As the website Anti-CAIR reported, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) signed onto a letter that suggests the prosecution "may in fact lead to more disruptive and perhaps violent forms of political protests, since less non-violent and less disruptive protests would by this new precedent carry nearly the same criminal exposure."