A group of Muslim students accused of disrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine, were charged Friday with misdemeanor conspiracy counts, ending speculation about what would come from their actions nearly a year ago.
The 11 students each face one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one count of misdemeanor disturbance of a meeting, the Orange County district attorney’s office said. If convicted, they could face anything from probation and community service to six months in jail.
The students were arrested Feb. 8, 2010, after shouting and protesting during Oren’s speech on U.S.-Israeli security, forcing the diplomat to stop his remarks for 20 minutes. Eight of the students were from UC Irvine, and three were from the nearby campus of the University of California, Riverside.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said it is “deeply troubled” by the decision and called on the district attorney to dismiss the charges immediately.
“We are unaware of any case where a district attorney pressed criminal charges over this type of nonviolent student protest,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The district attorney’s action will undoubtedly intimidate students in Orange County and across the state, and discourage them from engaging in any controversial speech or protest for fear of criminal charges,” the statement said.