University of Illinois student charged with mob actions for pro-Palestine camp

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

Issa, 18, was arraigned in Champaign County Circuit Court on Tuesday. She faces up to three years in prison if convicted of the Class 4 felony charge of mobbing.

“From where I sit, these charges are unjustified, and they are dramatically against the spirit of public protest,” said Issa’s attorney, Evan Bruno.

Bruno said Issa is a positive, longtime member of the Champaign County community.

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

But Kaler said when students choose to go from speech to civil disobedience, they need to be prepared for the consequences.

The 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 camp at the U of I Alma Mater to prevent the police from tearing down their tents. Administrators warned students that the tents were against school policy before sending in campus police. The police could not clear a path to the tents. The students took them down themselves later that evening and rebuilt them on the Quad later that weekend.

The Champaign County State’s Attorney did not return requests for comment.

Activists expect three more cases in the coming days

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

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

Chris Zelle, 37, was charged with mob action and aggravated assault on a police officer. He faces up to seven years in prison.

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

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