Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, 37, was sentenced to ten years in prison by Iran over the weekend on charges of spying for the U.S. government.
NPR describes Wang as a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Princeton’s history department who was visiting Iran to do research for his Ph.D. dissertation when he disappeared last August. The announcement of his ten-year sentence on Sunday was Iran’s first official confirmation that he was under arrest.
The New York Times notes that a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary mentioned the prosecution of “one of America’s infiltrators,” someone who had “spider connections” with U.S. and British intelligence agencies, at a weekly news conference. The judiciary asserted Wang has performed “super confidential research for the U.S. Department of State, Harvard Kennedy School, and British Institute of Persian Studies.”
Princeton spokesman Daniel Day confirmed that Wang was the person referred to by the Iranian reports on Sunday.
“His family and the university are distressed at his continued imprisonment and are hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran,” said Day. He stated that Princeton University has been quietly working with Wang’s family and the U.S. government to secure his release.
The Atlantic describes Wang as “born and raised in China,” with a bachelor’s degree in South Asian studies from the University of Washington and Russian and Eurasian studies at Harvard. According to Iranian media, he holds dual U.S. and Chinese citizenship.
“Xiyue Wang is a remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student. He is innocent of all the charges,” his Princeton doctoral adviser, Professor Stephen Kotkin, told the Washington Post.
Kotkin said Wang’s scanning of hundred-year-old documents for easy access during his later scholarly research was “normal, standard scholarly practice.”
“We saw nothing out of the ordinary on anything that he undertook or did. He’s a graduate student in good standing,” said Professor Kotkin.
“The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security related changes. We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement to the Associated Press.
The Washington Post names other Americans in Iranian custody, including art-gallery manager Karan Vafadari; businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer; and Nizar Zakka, an Internet freedom activist who is a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon.
Zakka is serving the same 10-year sentence for “espionage” handed down to Wang. The Post notes he has been on a hunger strike for three weeks and is refusing to sign the documents Iranian authorities insist are necessary to get medical attention because he fears being tricked into signing a confession.
The big news from the crime blotter for Iranian citizens over the weekend was the arrest of recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereidoun. Fereidoun is described by the AP as a “close confidante” of the president and a member of the team that negotiated the nuclear deal. He was arrested on corruption charges in what some observers believe is a power play to undermine Rouhani’s authority.