The Orange County district attorney's office announced Friday that it is charging the so-called "Irvine 11" with misdemeanor charges related to their protest of the Israeli ambassador who spoke at UC Irvine last year.
The group of student activists from UCI and UC Riverside is charged with misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and misdemeanor disturbing a meeting. Their sentences can range from probation to six months in jail, if convicted.
The charges stem from an Orange County Grand Jury investigation stretching back to last summer. The grand jury turned over its findings to prosecutors, who decided to file charges, officials said.
On Feb. 8, 2010, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren spoke in front of hundreds at the university after being invited there by several campus groups, including the Anteaters for Israel and UCI's law and political science departments.
The "Irvine 11" continually disrupted his speech by periodically standing up and shouting, accusing him of permitting the mass murder of Palestinians.
"These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting," Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a prepared statement. "This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold our Constitution."
According to county prosecutors, postings on UCI's Muslim Student Union message board and e-mails with organization members had a clear timeline of planning that led up to the Feb. 8 protest.
Prosecutors based their charges on two parts of the state penal code. They say a conspiracy qualifies as statements revealing a common design or plan for an unlawful act, and an illegal disruption is conduct that substantially and intentionally disrupts a meeting when the rules and customs of the meeting are reasonably understood.
Six days before the speech, MSU President Mohamed Abdelgany, 23, allegedly had a meeting with other MSU members to discuss their protest options.
The next day, prosecutors claim, he posted a message calling for a "Chicago-style" disruption of Oren's speech. On Feb. 5, the group met to form a "Final Plan," and the next day, Abdelgany allegedly told his fellow protesters to keep their plans private, prosecutors said.
That same day, Feb. 6, Abdelgany allegedly e-mailed MSU's board members and told them that if they were questioned about the protest, they should blame it on the individuals involved, not the MSU. He said that way, it would take heat off the MSU from UCI administrators.
MSU was ultimately suspended as a student group for six months because of the Oren protest. It is still on probation until December 2012.
The day before the protest, prosecutors allege Abdelgany told "nondisruptors" to cheer after protesters shouted at Oren. Among the statements hurled at the ambassador were, "Michael Oren, you are a war criminal," and "You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide."
Friday's charges come days after more than 40 activists protested outside of the district attorney's office in Santa Ana, calling for prosecutors to drop any criminal investigation into the Irvine 11. They claimed prosecutors were trying to stifle free speech for political reasons.
"People will say it's political. They don't know what kind of evidence we have," said Susan Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney. "We have to base our judgment on facts and the law, and not what a popular position may be. It's the conduct. You don't get to violate other people's rights."
The 11 defendants are scheduled to be arraigned March 11 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. A time and courtroom have yet to be determined.
Osama Ahmed Shabaik, 22
Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19
Joseph Tamim Haider, 23
Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19
Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23
Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21
Khalid Bahgat Akari, 19
Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21
Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23
Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23