SANTA ANA - Defense arguments in the Irvine 11 trial continued into their second day Wednesday, with attorneys arguing their clients' actions constituted protected speech and are not a crime. Other witnesses were called to testify on behalf of the defendants' character or to discuss how other university protests allowed for a greater right to disrupt without the fear of academic sanction or arrest.
Ten of the 11 students arrested for an orchestrated series of disruptions during a February 2010 speech at the University of California, Irvine by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren are on trial facing misdemeanor charges. Despite repeated admonitions from university officials, the students continued to interrupt Oren, reading from prepared note cards as their supporters cheered.
What happened at the speech is not really in dispute. The issue is whether the episode violated the law. Prosecutors charged the group with conspiracy. The disruptions were plotted by members of the Muslim Student Union, a chapter of the national Muslim Students Association (MSA), emails exchanged among the students show.
The case has called into question the bounds of free speech at university events, and whether the right to protest can be used to squelch a speaker's right to be heard.
Defense attorneys say the students have the right to protest as a valid form of free speech. To make the argument, UC Irvine Professor Rei Terada testified that the norms of free speech on campus allow for and even encourage protest. Demands by university officials that protesters remain "courteous, polite, and hospitable," were unreasonable expectations, she said, that could not restrict the students' right to disrupt the speaker and the university's sponsorship of him.
Other witnesses described participating in similar student protests that did not elicit a police response. Several character witnesses for the defendants also testified.
Prosecutors challenged Terada's testimony by asking whether students could have expressed themselves in other ways, rather than choosing only to be disruptive and restrict the ambassador's ability to be heard.