Lawyer: Fire was a ‘prank’

Three Yale students arrested for burning an American flag attached to a house were not politically motivated, their lawyer said Thursday.

The attorney, William Dow, said that Hyder Akbar ’07 takes full responsibility for lighting the flag on fire early Tuesday morning. Nikolaos Angelopoulos ’10 and Farhad Anklesaria ’10, who were with Akbar at the time, were not involved in the “prank,” Dow said. All three were charged with multiple counts of second-degree arson, first-degree reckless endangerment, third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree breach of peace at an arraignment on Tuesday.

Contrary to statements Wednesday by the correctional facility where they were being held, the three students had all been released from prison on bail by mid-morning Wednesday, Dow said.

Akbar admits to burning the flag, which was being flown from a Chapel Street home, though not for political reasons, Dow said.

“There was absolutely no political motivation whatsoever,” he said. “It was a stupid college prank.”

Dow declined to comment on whether the students had been under the influence of alcohol or any other substances. The police report gives no indication of whether they were or not.

Dow said Angelopoulos and Anklesaria maintain their innocence and that Akbar told the police at the time of his arrest that he was the one responsible.

“The other two were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dow said.

New Haven Police Department spokeswoman Bonnie Posick previously told the News that according to the arrest report, all three had admitted responsibility to police officers on the night of the fire.

The result of the case could be particularly significant for Angelopoulos and Anklesaria because they are international students of Greek and British citizenship, respectively. Ann Kuhlman, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said both the arrests and the outcome of the case could affect their immigration status.

Akbar is a U.S. citizen, though he was born in Pakistan. 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.

On campus, many students said they still did not know many details of the case but that the national attention the story has received is not surprising, particularly because it involves Afghani students at Yale. Several students cited the attention Yale received last year over former Taliban spokesman Rahmatullah Hashemi’s admission into the Non-Degree Students Program, as well as last fall’s coverage of Aleksey Vayner’s ’08 video resume.

Yale came under fire from conservative critics last year after the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on Hashemi’s special student status at the University. The ensuing media blitz brought Yale’s decision to admit Hashemi into the spotlight, prompting heated debate among alumni and international media.

Hashemi was ultimately denied admission to Yale’s degree-granting Eli Whitney Students Program last summer and was also unable to obtain a visa to return to Yale from Pakistan for this year.

Though the current situation has not yet attracted the same amount of media attention as Hashemi, some students said they hope that news coverage will not prevent the three Yale students from receiving fair treatment in the justice system.

“This is one of these issues that’s probably getting a disproportionate amount of play because it’s Yale,” Eric Kafka ’08 said. “What’s most important is for them to get a fair trial.”

Despite Dow’s statement that the actions were not politically motivated, students nonetheless disagree over whether the incident has political implications.

Sam Massie ’09 said he does not think the arson should be seen as a political.

“In setting fire to the flag, they were endangering house, so I don’t see this as a political thing,” he said. “The fact that the students have foreign-sounding names and that they are three Yale students makes for a sensational story, but it doesn’t bring up any interesting issues.”

But though burning an American flag is not illegal, and the students are being charged because the flag in question was attached to a house, some students said they could not see the act as anything but a political statement.

“I have a hard time believing that burning a flag is not inherently a political act,” Matt Magliocco ’08 said. “I think it’s incumbent on anyone, whether an American student abroad or a foreign student here, to at least show respect for the country he’s living in. Burning a flag is the complete opposite of that.”

The arrested students are set to appear in court on April 10 for a plea hearing.

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