At approximately 2:35pm this afternoon in the Orange County Superior Courthouse in Santa Ana, California, the presiding judge in the Irvine 11 trial, Peter Wilson, announced his sentence following a jury’s decision to convict the students on both misdemeanor counts with which they were charged (“conspiracy to disrupt a public meeting” and “disruption of a public meeting”).
The Irvine 11 held a nonviolent civil disobedience protest during a speech by an Israeli official in February 2010 and have been fighting the charges in court since late August.
Wilson stated to the defendants and their attorneys — with nearly one hundred people present in the courtroom — that although the jury decided on guilty verdicts, he would not be sending the students to jail for the protest in which they were involved. He said that the defendants have no prior records, are productive members of their community, and acted on their beliefs, so jailtime would be “inappropriate.”
He ordered the students to serve 56 hours of community service at a non-profit organization and said they were under a 3-year probation. But if they complete their service before the end of January 2012, the probation would only be for one year, and would end on 24 September 2012.
There was a palpable mood of relief in the room from friends, family members, and supporters, who just two hours before had heard that the jury returned two guilty verdicts for every defendant. When the verdicts were read by the court clerk, several people immediately burst into tears, and others stood up and walked out. One person said “there is no justice.”
Following the sentencing, the students and their attorneys held a press conference outside the courthouse, with a plethora of news media present. The attorneys and the Irvine 11 (and their families) have been under a gag order to the media for the past several months, and this was the first opportunity to hear from the students and the attorneys and ask questions.
Student Khalid Akari said:
On February 8, 2010, I stood up against the face of oppression. I stood up for the children of Palestine; children who have no voice. That day, I stood up for a purpose. I stood up for conscience. I had a message that day, a peaceful message.
As people around the world are fighting to seek a voice, I too will fight on, to seek my voice and to be heard. Because this is not a right that can be taken [away] by a district attorney; this right has been given to us by God.
My message is to all those activists who have been watching this story closely. All of those who speak truth to power. And all of those who challenge the status quo. Do not let this case deter you. Do not let this case falter your activism. Make this the platform to intensify activism on the Palestine issue in this country.
Despite the prejudicial nature of the charges filed against us, and the actions of the University administration, I want to say that I respect the court’s decision, however I would like to emphasize how proud I am of my actions on February 8 . I intend to continue my activism, to give voice to the voiceless. Including my cousins, who died during the Gaza massacre. And the 1,400 other civilians who lost their lives during that massacre as well. May God rest their souls.
Mohamed Abdelgany, Asaad Traina and Aslan Akhtar also spoke passionately and eloquently to the crowd. The full video of the press conference will be uploaded this weekend.
Even though the sentence was relatively light, the attorneys said that they would immediately be filing an appeal to overturn the decision, and would take it all the way to the Supreme Court in order to protect legitimate protest and free speech. Attorney Lisa Holder, expressing pride in her clients, said that the students “stood up for their conscience, they stood up for their beliefs, and they stand out in a world that has become very apathetic.”
Holder added that she was excited to work with them in the future to help “overturn certain laws which are not fair and which do not allow us to voice our beliefs and to intently voice our conscience.”
We will be appealing this decision. And we expect that there will be some changes in the laws to make room for this type of dissent, which is valid, which is important, which is critical to our democracy.
Attorney Dan Mayfield added:
Remember what the judge said in the court: that part of his reason for giving the sentence that he gave — which was a very lenient and fair sentence — was because the judge found that the young men in this case were motivated by their sincere beliefs.
[Additionally,] there is already a movement which has developed in just the 30-45 minutes since we left court: a movement of people who are pledging to do volunteer work alongside these young men. So when they do their 56 hours of volunteer work, they will bring other people with them to do volunteer work in our community. I’m very, very proud to be part of this group.
The District Attorney’s lead prosecutor, Dan Wagner, stated outside the courtroom after sentencing was read that he had wanted the students to serve jailtime so it would deter future protesters.
Khalid Akari told The Electronic Intifada outside the courtroom that the guilty verdict, though he was naturally unhappy with it, has not deterred his activism. “Not at all,” he said. “I stood up for a reason that day. It would be pointless if I stopped doing it, so I will continue doing it.”
Taher Herzallah said that he was concerned that if they took a plea bargain at the beginning, and did not fight this in court, that it may not have inspired such outcry from students and the community at large. “We shouldn’t be scared,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “We should be encouraged to do these things. I hope this whole process encourages people do stand up, not discourage them.”
When asked what message he had to the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and siege, Herzallah said that he wanted to address the mothers who have lost their sons, to those under attack.
We are with you. We did not forget about you. Here in America we’re struggling and we’re willing to make the sacrifice to give you any ease or comfort as much as possible. The battleground in America with the Zionists is not over. This was just the beginning, and we are ready to continue.
The Electronic Intifada will provide updates in the appeals process. For more information, visit the Stand With the Eleven solidarity website at www.irvine11.com.
This article was originally published by the Electronic Intifada.