Two still held in burning of flag

After their arrest Tuesday for burning an American flag hanging from a Chapel Street home, two Yale students remained incarcerated as of Wednesday afternoon, though the third student was released on bail Tuesday night.

According to court records, Hyder Akbar ’07, Nikolaos Angelopoulos ’10 and Farhad Anklesaria ’10 were charged with multiple counts of second-degree arson, first-degree reckless endangerment, third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree breach of peace. Angelopoulos was released on $25,000 bail Tuesday, according to officials at the Connecticut Correctional Center. The motive for the alleged arson remains unknown, as students speculated that the three, returning home late at night, may have been intoxicated rather than motivated by politics.

This now-quiet home at 512 Chapel St. was the site of Tuesday night’s alleged arson, which has sparked controversy both on and off campus.
Matt Lucas
This now-quiet home at 512 Chapel St. was the site of Tuesday night’s alleged arson, which has sparked controversy both on and off campus.

University officials declined to comment on whether or not Yale will take any disciplinary action but noted that the arrests could affect the immigration status of the two international students allegedly involved.

New Haven Police Department spokeswoman Bonnie Posick said police officers first encountered the students around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning when the officers saw the trio walking down Chapel Street into Fair Haven. The students flagged down the officers’ patrol car, she said, asking them how to get back to campus. The students told the officers they had been visiting a friend and had gotten lost while returning home, she said.

Later, when the officers were driving back down Chapel Street to see if the students had found their way back, they saw that a flag hanging off 512 Chapel St. was engulfed in flames, Posick said. As one officer removed the burning flag, the other officer stopped the students, who by that point were farther down the street.

Akbar, a Silliman College senior, was born in Pakistan but is an American citizen who was raised in California. He worked as an informal translator for U.S. forces during the invasion of Afghanistan and later published a memoir, “Come Back to Afghanistan,” based on his experiences there. His father is the former governor of an Afghan province.

The other two students involved in Tuesday’s incident, Saybrook College freshmen Angelopoulos and Anklesaria, are Greek and British citizens, respectively.

Posick said the arrest report gives no indication of whether or not the students were intoxicated at the time, but that officers do not generally conduct field sobriety tests on pedestrians.

Angelopoulos did not respond to requests for comment, and according to a friend, he does not want to speak to the press until the charges are settled. The friend, who said he has spoken with Angelopoulos about the incident, said he believes Angelopoulos is innocent of the charges.

Other friends of the arrested students declined to comment.

There is no indication in the police report that the fire caused damage to the house itself. Posick said an officer removed the flag from its pole while it was burning because the flames were approaching the building’s awning.

According to Posick, the students told the arresting officers that lighting the flag on fire “was a stupid thing to do.”

Yale Law School professor Robert Post said that from a legal standpoint, that the fact that a flag was used to start the fire is not significant compared to the overall threat the fire posed. Burning an American flag is not itself illegal, and the three were charged with crimes because the flag was private property and the fire could have damaged the house to which the flag was attached.

“It’s one thing to prosecute someone under an arson statute for burning a flag in front of a movie or in a theater,” he said. “It’s quite another thing if it’s burning a flag in a way that could put a building in danger.”

The arrested students’ motives for allegedly lighting the flag on fire are unclear. Though students said they did not know enough about the incidents to draw any conclusions, many were skeptical that the flag-burning was a premeditated political statement rather than a result of bad judgment and possible inebriation — particularly because the students had first stopped police to ask for directions back to campus.

In an interview with the News in February 2006 about his then-recently published memoirs, Akbar said he felt both American and Afghani. Though he was raised in California, Akbar skipped his high school graduation and prom in 2002 to observe meetings of the new Afghani representative government.

“In the beginning, my optimism was pretty high, and I was very excited by what would happen now and all the promises the administration had made to Afghanistan,” Akbar said. “Going there, seeing realities on ground didn’t quite match up.”

In the interview, Akbar also described his frustration with the American government’s involvement in the death of Abdul Wali, a prisoner of the Americans in Afghanistan whom Akbar had encouraged to cooperate with US forces. Akbar had accompanied Wali when he surrendered to the Americans, but Wali died in prison a few days later. Ex-CIA contractor David Passaro was later found guilty of beatings that lead to Wali’s death.

University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on whether or not the administration is considering any disciplinary action, as he said student disciplinary matters are confidential. But he said students must remember that they are responsible for their actions, both on campus and off. The residential colleges will guide the arrested students as needed, he said.

“The students’ residential colleges will offer guidance and assistance to the students as appropriate,” Conroy said. “[The students] have a legal process to go through, and no doubt they have questions and concerns related to that. Some of those are probably appropriate for the colleges.”

Saybrook College Master Mary Miller declined to comment, and Silliman College Master Judith Krauss could not be reached for comment.

Ann Kuhlman, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said the arrests and their outcome could eventually affect Angelopoulos’ and Anklesaria’s immigration status, though she said she could not speculate in what way.

“Commission or conviction of some (but not all) crimes can have an impact on a student’s immigration status,” she said in an e-mail. “The intersection of immigration and criminal law is complicated, and students need good legal advice to work through these issues.”

Kuhlman said the students will have to disclose that they have been arrested, regardless of the outcome, whenever they apply for a future visa and possibly whenever they enter the country. If the students are convicted and the University takes disciplinary action, then according to student visa regulations, the school would need to record the incidents on the their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System records.

The students are next set to appear in court at a plea hearing on April 10.

—Aaron Bray contributed reporting.

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