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Criminal charges reduced for UMass Amherst students arrested during pro-Palestine sit-in

Students at UMass Amherst who were arrested in October for refusing to leave a closed building on campus had their hearing in court on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the university said the students were trespassing after being given a lawful order to leave. The students said they were peacefully protesting by sitting in the building and demanding the institution cut ties with defense contractor, Raytheon, and condemn the killings in Gaza.

The 21 students who were arrested showed up at the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown. The district attorney decided to reduce their trespassing charges to a civil infraction, which the students say they intend to fight.

Ruya Hazeyen is one of the seniors arrested and co-president of the Students for Justice in Palestine organization. She believes the university is treating them unfairly.

"We are also being punished in ways that protesters before us have not been punished. Which tells us that there is a political message with what they're doing to us,” Hazeyen said.

A UMass spokesperson said students refused to leave the Whitmore Building after it closed and are now facing an internal student conduct investigation.

Maysoun Batley, a senior and co-president of the Students for Justice in Palestine, added her disappointment with the disciplinary actions the university has been taking.

“Kids that were arrested for protesting who were supposed to go abroad were barred from going abroad,” Batley said.

A UMass spokesperson said these students were facing conduct sanctions between their initial approval and departure date and their study abroad privileges were revoked until the sanctions were completed. The spokesperson added the sanctions are not related to the students’ protected rights to protest on campus.

The student's next court date is on April 23.

And we should note, the license for NEPM’s main radio signal is held by UMass Amherst. The newsroom operates independently.

Corrected: February 9, 2024 at 8:10 PM EST
This story has been updated to reflect that UMass Amherst students were arrested in October after refusing a lawful order to leave a closed building on campus.
Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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