Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
Case # 11CM01351
February 4, 2011
Susan Kang Schroeder
Chief of Staff
OCDA CHARGES 11 MEN WITH CONSPIRACY
TO DISRUPT A MEETING DURING SPEECH
BY ISRAELI AMBASSADOR AT UCI
SANTA ANA – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) has charged 11 defendants with conspiring to disrupt a meeting and speech by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Each defendant is charged with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of the disturbance of a meeting. If convicted, they each face a sentence ranging from probation with community service and fines up to one year in jail. They are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges March 11, 2011, at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. The time and Department are to be determined.
The defendants are: Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, 20; Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19.
The incident (described below) occurred Feb. 8, 2010, on the campus of UCI. Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren (Ambassador Oren) was the featured speaker at a meeting co-sponsored by multiple organizations including Anteaters for Israel, UCI’s School of Law, Department of Political Science, and Center for the Study of Democracy. Approximately 500 to 700 people had assembled for the meeting. Eight of the defendants were students at UCI and Akari, Herzallah, and Nassar were students at University of California, Riverside.
“This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI. These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution,” stated District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
Law Concerning Disturbance of a Meeting or Assembly (Penal Code § 403)
Penal Code § 403, entitled, “Disturbance of assembly or meeting other than religious or political,” states: “Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character … is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The California Supreme Court stated (In re Kay, supra, 1 Cal. 3rd 930, 946) that the section required that the defendant substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting by intentionally committing acts in violation of implicit customs or usages or of explicit rules for governance of the meeting, of which he knew, or as a reasonable man should have known. “Substantial impairment” was determined by the “actual impact” on the course of the meeting, such activity, when it is intentional and when it “substantially impairs the conduct of a meeting, violates section 403.” Finally, a violation of Penal Code § 403 does not require that a defendant’s conduct create a clear and present danger of violent conduct on the part of the defendant or of others or that it endangered public safety and order.
Law Concerning Conspiracy (Penal Code § 182) and Proof by Circumstantial Evidence
Penal Code § 182 renders it unlawful for “two or more persons [to] conspire to commit any crime.” It further states, “Conspiracy is a specific intent crime requiring an intent to agree or conspire, and a further intent to commit the target crime … ” with at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy be committed by one or more of the parties to the conspiracy.
Evidence of an express agreement is not necessary. Acts, circumstances, or statements which occurred before or during the formation of the conspiracy, or acts or conduct evidencing a common design or plan, may prove the conspiracy.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the relationships and associations of the parties involved may be religious, and if a relevant circumstance to the existence of a conspiracy, are not barred from admission by constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion. (People v. Bautista (2008) 163 Cal. App. 4th 762, 784, quoting U.S. Supreme Court in Dawson v. Delaware (1992) 503 U.S. 159, 156)
The conspiracy charge could be filed as a felony. After taking into consideration all of the facts and circumstances of this case, the OCDA has exercised its discretion to file this count as a misdemeanor.
Circumstances of the Planning of the Disruption
On Feb. 2, 2010, Abdelgany, President of the Muslim Student Union at UCI (MSU-UCI), is accused of meeting with other members of the MSU-UCI elected governing board to discuss options to respond to the upcoming speech by Ambassador Oren, which was to be held six days later.
On Feb. 3, 2010, MSU-UCI members held a general assembly meeting regarding their decision to disrupt the speech of Ambassador Oren. Abdelgany is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board announcing that “we will be staging a University of Chicago Style disruption of the Ambassador’s speech.”
On Feb. 4, 2010, an unknown co-conspirator is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board announcing an “Emergency planning meeting for Israeli Ambassador Event.”
On Feb. 5, 2010, members of the MSU-UCI held an “Israeli Ambassador Protest Logistical Meeting” wherein a “Final Plan” for the disruption of Ambassador Oren’s speech was formulated.
On Feb. 6, 2010, Abdelgany is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board containing the “Game Plan” for the disruption of the Israeli Ambassador’s event and an admonishment to “not share this e-mail with others.” On the same day, Abdelgany is accused of emailing the MSU-UCI elected governing board and defendants Haider, Sayeed, and Shabaik. Abdelgany is accused of advising in the e-mail that “to the outside,” the disruption of the Ambassador Oren’s speech was to be portrayed as done by individuals, not the MSU, in order to “put up an obstacle” against the UCI administration in case it was to “come after MSU” following the disruption.
On Feb. 7, 2010, Abdelgany is accused of sending an email to the MSU-UCI Message Board advising “nondisruptors” to cheer after each “disruptor” is finished. He is accused of asking for a volunteer to print statements and paste them on index cards to be used for the disruption of Ambassador Oren’s speech.
Circumstances of the Execution of the Disruption
On Feb. 8, 2010, Ambassador Oren began his speech at UCI. The defendants are accused of planning the disruption and then each deliberately and intentionally interrupted Ambassador Oren during his speech one at a time. First, Shabaik is accused of disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing up and shouting, “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech.”
Traina is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing up and shouting.
Haider is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing up and shouting.
Qureashi is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing and shouting, “Michael Oren you are a war criminal.”
Sayeed is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing up and shouting.
Herzallah is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing and shouting, “It’s a shame this University has sponsored a mass murderer like yourself.”
Akari is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing up and shouting.
Nassar is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing and shouting, “You sir are an accomplice to genocide.”
Abdelgany is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing and shouting, “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech.”
Akhtar is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by standing and shouting, “Michael Oren, murder is not free speech.”
Kebir is accused of then disrupting Ambassador Oren’s speech by beginning a loud chant with the words, “Whose University?”
All 11 defendants were arrested, cited, and released.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner is prosecuting this case.