'Affront to Justice': Protester Faces Year in Jail for Laughing During Sessions Hearing
Verdict described as 'an affront to justice and contrary to the kind of peaceful tolerant world we all deserve to live in'
Sixty-one-year-old Desiree Ali-Fairooz, an activist with the anti-war group CodePink, faces up to one year in jail for laughing during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' January confirmation hearing.
Fairooz was convicted Wednesday of disorderly or disruptive conduct and demonstrating on U.S. Capitol grounds. Fellow activists Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, also of CodePink, were also convicted on "parading or demonstrating" and unlawful display charges. For these criminal misdemeanors, they each face jail time, fines, or both, depending on the outcome of a June 21 sentencing hearing, according to the New York Times.
The office of the United States attorney for the District of Columbia argued in an April filing that all three protesters sought to "impede and disrupt" the hearing. Barry and Bianchi dressed as Ku Klux Klan members with white hoods and robes, and stood before the hearing started to greet the senator in what CodePink described as "a parody designed to highlight Sessions' racist history."
Fairooz, the office said, "created a scene" when she "scoffed" at Sen. Richard Shelby's (R-Ala.) assertion that Sessions' record of "treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented." She held up a sign that read, "Support Civil Rights; Stop Sessions" as she was removed from the room by Capitol Police.
In a statement Wednesday, Fairooz said the noise she made was "spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance."
Listen for it here:
Shortly after Fairooz laughed, officers approached to take her out of the room. "Why am I being taken out of here?" Fairooz asked as she was being led away. "I was going to be quiet, and now you're going to have me arrested? For what?"
Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly caught the moment on video:
Another protester escorted out of Sessions hearing. Her original offense appeared to be simply laughing. pic.twitter.com/p6lWzBVFRW
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) January 10, 2017
"Since CodePink formed at the start of the Iraq war, we have continuously been in the halls of Congress and in the streets standing up against war, militarism, and hatred," spokeswoman Ariel Gold said Wednesday. "That Tighe, Lenny, and Desiree were convicted for peacefully protesting the hatred and racism of Jeff Sessions is an affront to justice and contrary to the kind of peaceful tolerant world we all deserve to live in."
Fairooz told the Times after the verdict that she plans to continue protesting the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, Barry said that Sessions' record since being confirmed provides justification for his and Bianchi's protest. "As an American who loves the constitution and the rule of law, I felt compelled to be present with my protest of the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions who was being considered as the number one law enforcement officer in the country," Barry said.
"His nomination and confirmation as attorney general make a mockery of our judicial system and our constitution in general," he continued. "Time has shown that our concerns were valid. Sessions is a terrible attorney general and is already setting back progress this country has made in the area of civil rights and race relations."
Under the banner Truth Is Not a Crime, CodePink is urging people to sign a petition addressed to U.S. attorneys general that reads: "The Department of Justice should not eject people from public hearings in congress and then criminally prosecute them for up to a year in prison for appropriate reactions to absurd and false statements." Sign here.