LOS ANGELES -- Today, the Muslim Public Affairs Council sent a letter to UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake and UCI School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky calling for an investigation into the arrest of 11 students who protested during a speech given by Israel's Ambassador to U.S., Michael Oren, on Monday. UC Irvine police arrested the students after they stood up during Oren's speech and individually condemned Israel's practice of collective punishment towards Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
SEE: "11 Arrested for Disrupting Israeli Ambassador" (Orange County Register)
SEE: "Ambassador Michael Oren Visits UCI" (UC Irvine Muslim Student Union)
After individually making their comment, each student then moved to leave the room and allow Oren to continue his speech. Whether or not one agrees with the students' tactics for expressing their opinions during this event, all students should be free to exercise their free speech without being subjected to arrest, intimidation, and even death threats.
"These students had the courage and conscience to stand up against aggression, using peaceful means," said MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. "We cannot allow our educational institutions to be used as a platform to threaten and discourage students who choose to practice their First Amendment right."
The letter reads in part:
University police had every right to escort the individuals out of the room, and bar them from re-entering. However, it is unclear what law they broke that would allow for them to be arrested for their actions. For this reason, we are calling on your office and that of the UCI Police Department to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the arrest of these students.
As you know, it is of utmost importance that universities be preserved as spaces for free and open discourse, particularly about the many controversial issues and international events being pondered by your campus community. We have been notified that the University is currently considering suspending or even expelling these students from the university as a result of their actions. The reality is that what these students did is not unlike the actions of many student activists in our nation’s history – they found a way to voice their opposition and dissent to an issue they feel passionately about, and did so in a peaceful but attention-getting manner. As a statement of fact, such tactics have been utilized by other students on campus to voice their dissent with controversial speakers, having nothing to do with the subject at hand. In none of those incidents have students been removed from the premises, let alone arrested and threatened with expulsion. To do so now would constitute a selective enforcement of university policies, and send the wrong message to the campus community.
Chancellor Drake, this incident is troubling and has aroused strong feelings from all sides. That said, we call on you to demonstrate the leadership currently needed in order to calm these tensions, and preserve the rights of all parties to exercise their free speech without intimidation or arrest.
MPAC today also called on the University Police to investigate death threats against Muslim students who attended the event on Monday.