Court rules on flag arson

A Yale student charged with burning an American flag hanging from a Chapel Street home earlier this month was asked to perform community service, while charges against two other students were dismissed.

According to the New Haven Superior Court clerk’s office, Hyder Akbar ’07 — who through his lawyer had previously admitted to burning the flag — was admitted to an accelerated rehabilitation program and will have to perform 50 hours of community service over nine months before his charges are dismissed. All of the charges against Nikolaos Angelopoulos ’10 and Farhad Anklesaria ’10 were dismissed. Attorneys for the students said they were pleased with what they considered to be a fair outcome to the highly publicized case.

The court appearance yesterday followed the students’ arrests on April 3, when police officers found them near a home where a flag had been burning close to the porch awning. The students were arraigned on multiple counts of second degree arson, first degree reckless endangerment, third degree criminal mischief and second degree breach of peace.

Hugh Keefe, the attorney for the freshmen, said he and his clients are very pleased with the outcome of the case.

“All the charges against my two clients were dismissed, their passports were ordered returned and the arrests were wiped from their records,” he said. “In this case that’s the correct result because these two young men were in fact totally innocent of all of the charges. They didn’t do anything other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The Saybrook College freshmen had maintained their innocence since they were released from jail on bail after an overnight stay. Soon after his release, Akbar’s lawyer William Dow III ’63 said Akbar took full responsibility for the “stupid college prank,” which he said was not politically motivated.

Dow said that he too was pleased with the outcome of the case, especially considering the national attention it had garnered.

“There’s always a concern where there is the possibility of a misunderstanding by the public,” he said. “Fortunately, in this case, everyone involved — the state, the prosecution, the judge and most importantly, the owner of the house — recognized this was a foolish act committed by a college student who is a true patriot who showed his patriotism by actively supporting the American efforts in Afghanistan.”

Both Angelopoulos and Anklesaria are international students, and Ann Kuhlman, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, previously told the News that outcome of the arrests could affect the students’ immigration status. She could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Keefe said he does not think the case will affect the students’ visas or their ability to travel.

Akbar, though born in Pakistan, is a naturalized American citizen. His father served as a governor in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and Akbar spent several summers there, where he acted as an informal translator for American troops.

Keefe said he had been concerned that the students’ foreign origins and their status as Yale students might influence the outcome of the case. But he said the prosecutor made a special point of saying that Akbar would not be treated more harshly because his last name sounded foreign.

Saybrook College Master Mary Miller said she was relieved that the students would now be able to resume their normal studies.

“I have been convinced of the innocence of the two Saybrook students from the beginning, and I am very pleased that they have now been exonerated,” she said in an e-mail. “I’m so grateful that Nick and Farhad can now focus on their studies and concentrate on final work for the end of the term.”

Akbar, Angelopoulos and Anklesaria could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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