For activist Desiree Fairooz, laughter is the crime that would get her arrested.
During the introduction of then Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 10,Fairooz laughed when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Sessions had a record of “treating all Americans equally under the law” that is “clear and well-documented.”
Fairooz, a 61-year-old Bluemont, Va., resident, was prosecutedand convicted Wednesday on misdemeanor charges of disrupting Congress and parading or demonstrating on capitol grounds, according to U.S. Attorney spokesman Bill Miller.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that she “let out a loud burst of laughter, followed by a second louder burst,” reports The New York Times. And Fairooz “grew loud and more disruptive, eventually halting the confirmation hearing, when police tried to escort her out of the room.”
A Huffington Post reporter tweeted a video of her removal.
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
Fairooz said that upon hearing Sen. Shelby’s statement on Sessions, she let out a giggle.
“I just couldn’t hold it,” she told The New York Times on Wednesday. “It was spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance.”
Fairooz was surprised to be taken into custody by officers, she said.
She is a member of activist group Code Pink. Two other activists from the group, Lenny Bianchi and Tighe Barry, who were dressed in white hoods and robes as Ku Klux Klan members and stood up before the Jan. 10 hearing began, were also convicted on misdemeanor charges. Bianchi and Barry were found guilty of parading or demonstrating and unlawful display but were found not guilty of disrupting Congress.
The three could receive a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, $2,000 in fines or both. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 21.
Ariel Gold, campaign director for Code Pink,said what Fairooz did in the courtroom was not a protest.
“[Fairooz] has been arrested while demonstrating in past,” Gold told NBC News. “But [her laugh] was not demonstrating. Generally, when Code Pink demonstrates, it’s very hard to miss.”
Some members of Congress, such as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), believe it is actually Sessions who is guilty of a crime for committing perjury during his confirmation hearing when he did not disclose meetings with a Russian ambassador.
Also, Congress’ objection to Fairooz’ laughter at Sessions echoes the silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) while reading a letter of testimony against him.
On the Senate floor, Warren read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter against Jeff Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship, and Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell had her silenced.
In February, Warren held the Senate floor to make remarks on the pending appointment of Sessions. When she began reading a recently uncovered letter written by the late Coretta Scott King in 1986, Republican senators shut her down.
Warren was accused by Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell of impugning a peer and said that she was warned to stop reading the letter but did so anyway. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who was presiding in the chamber at the time, validated McConnell’s objection.
Daines told Warren to “have a seat.” Senators upheld Daines’ decision in a party-line vote, 49 to 43. Warren was forbidden from taking part in the ongoing debate on the Sessions nomination.
When Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “you lie” at former President Barack Obama during a joint session of Congress in 2009, the House passed a resolution chastising him with no penalties. And, unlike Fairooz, Wilson wasn’t charged with “disorderly and disruptive conduct” intended to “impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct” of congressional proceedings.
Bills that would result in harm to protesters are “incompatible with international human rights,” said U.N. experts on peaceful assembly.
Fairooz being convicted for laughter reflects hardline actions taken against protesters following Donald Trump’s presidential win. Lawmakers in at least 19 states have introduced legislation to restrict the right to protest.
Maina Kiai and David Kaye, U.N. experts on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, warn the trend in such state bills is incompatible with international human rights, and ending peaceful protests infringes upon U.S. constitutional rights.
“The trend threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech,” Kiai and Kaye said in a recentstatement sent to U.S. authorities.