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Faculty urges DA to drop UCI Muslim charges

February 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
One hundred University of California-Irvine faculty members are asking the Orange County District Attorney not to press charges against Muslim students who disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. last year.

As Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren was trying to give a speech at UC Irvine a year ago, protesters in the audience interrupted him.

Eleven Muslim students were arrested. Last week, the Orange County District Attorney filed charges including conspiracy to disrupt the speech.

"It's really an attempt to stop the free speech of the speaker and to stop the free speech rights of the people who have gathered here to listen to that person's ideas," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Rackauckas faces criticism from some Muslim groups and about 100 faculty members at UC Irvine who signed a letter asking Rackauckas to drop the criminal charges.

"I feel that it's selective enforcement," said Marya Bangee, Stand With The Eleven Campaign organizer. "Why is he taking issue with these students at this specific moment?"

"Anybody who plans to stop or to squelch the ability of speakers to speak at an open meeting would be charged with the same violation," said Rackauckas.

The Stand With The Eleven Campaign is an advocacy group trying to bring attention to the issue. Bangee says the students have already been disciplined by the university.

"Criminalizing what these students did when they were just speaking out for their principles," said Bangee. "It's going to have a chilling effect on activism across the board."

"This case was brought to us by the UCI Police. We took a very careful look at it, did a very good investigation and found a very clear violation of the law. So my duty is to charge them," said Rackauckas.

The 11 students are expected to be arraigned in March. They face misdemeanor charges. The D.A. says because the students don't have prior criminal history, they most likely will not face jail time. Most likely they will face probation if convicted.


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