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University of Illinois student charged with mob action for pro-Palestine encampment

Six protesters are in the foreground with their backs to the camera. One protester wears a black and white, checkered scarf for Palestine. Blue and green tents, green leaves and campus buildings are in the background.
Pro-Palestine protesters surround tents near the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign Alma Mater on the afternoon of Friday, April 26.

URBANA – Yafa Issa is the first University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign student to be charged for participating in pro-Palestine demonstrations on campus at the end of the 2024 school year. 

Issa, 18, was arraigned at the Champaign County Circuit Court on Tuesday. She faces up to three years in prison if she is found guilty of the Class 4 felony of mob action. 

“From where I’m sitting, these prosecutions are unjustified, and they are dramatically against the spirit of public protest,” said Issa’s lawyer, Evan Bruno. 

Bruno described Issa as a positive, longtime member of the Champaign County community.

In a statement to IPM, University of Illinois spokesperson Robin Kaler said, “Free speech and free expression are bedrock principles and a cornerstone of academic inquiry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.”

However, Kaler said that when students choose to move from speech to civil disobedience, they must be prepared for the consequences.

The News-Gazette reports investigators used videos and social media to link Issa to an afternoon demonstration on Friday, April 26.

During the protest, students locked arms around their encampment near the U of I Alma Mater to prevent police from tearing their tents down. Administrators warned students the tents were against school policy before sending in campus police. Police were not able to clear a path to the tents. Students took them down themselves later in the evening and rebuilt them on the Quad later that weekend.

The Champaign County state’s attorney has not returned requests for comment.

Activists expect three more cases in coming days

Local activists say Issa is one of four protesters who will be summoned to court in the upcoming weeks. They say another protester is being arraigned on July 16.

Shortly after the protests occurred in April, two protesters were arraigned and charged with mob action.

Chris Zelle, 37, was charged with mob action and aggravated battery against a police officer. He is facing up to seven years in prison. 

George Vassilatos, 25, was charged with mob action and obstructing an officer. He is facing up to three years in prison.

Picture of Mae Antar

Mae Antar

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