February 20, 2019

Grad Students Host Rally For Colleague Imprisoned in Iran

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton University graduate students are hosting a day of action, including a rally and candlelight vigil, today, February 20, to call for the release of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton colleague and United States citizen who has been detained in Iran’s Evin Prison since 2016.

Wang was in Iran solely for scholarly purposes, learning the Farsi language and doing historical research for his Ph.D. dissertation, when he was arbitrarily and unjustly detained, according to Princeton University press releases. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has called for his immediate release, stating in September 2018 that the spying charge against Wang was false and that his conviction and imprisonment were unjust. 

A coalition of U.S. universities, led by the American Council on Education and the European University Association (EUA), which represents more than 800 universities and national university associations in 48 European countries, has also called for Wang’s immediate release, denouncing “this alarming violation of academic freedom, due process, and fair trial, which are fundamental and internationally recognized rights and standards.”

The November 29, 2018 EUA statement added, “Mr. Wang’s imprisonment is deeply troubling for scholars around the world and has a chilling effect on historical research and all scholarly exchange.”

Wang, 38, has now been separated from his wife and young son in Princeton for more than two and a half years, though he is able to call them on the phone almost daily. The WGAD opinion on Wang’s imprisonment states that Wang is “kept indoors for extended periods of time and does not see any natural light for up to a week at a time.”

Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, has noted that her husband’s “physical and mental health are rapidly deteriorating. He has lost weight, developed arthritis in his knees, suffered rashes and pains all over his body, and fallen victim to depression.”

Today’s events at Princeton University include a call-a-thon from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Campus Club library, where participants will make phone calls and conduct outreach to congressional representatives, urging them to prioritize Wang’s case, followed by the rally and candlelight vigil at Chancellor Green.

Hua Qu will speak at the rally, along with Graduate School Dean Sarah-Jane Leslie, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, History Department Chair Keith Wailoo, Wang’s classmate Joshua Bauchner, Senior Program Officer for the Scholars at Risk Network Daniel Munier, and Graduate History Association President Mikey McGovern.

McGovern, a leader of the student-citizen advocacy group under the auspices of the graduate school, emphasized the importance of “making this case visible to people around the world. Every day Wang is in Evin Prison is its own tragedy.” 

McGovern went on to note that despite current difficulties in Iran-U.S. relations, the timing of this event seemed favorable, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the month leading up to the celebration of Now Ruz, Iranian new year. 

McGovern urged concerned individuals to contact elected officials and work with them to raise consciousness of Wang’s plight on Capitol Hill and “to use our platform as citizens and students to speak collectively with one voice” in calling for Wang’s release.

Munier, in an email Tuesday, stated that “keeping a bright light on Wang over social media and in the press is simple, but so important to making sure Iranian officials know that we’re watching.”   

He continued, “The impact of the attack doesn’t stop at Wang and his family — it extends to scholars and students at Princeton, in Iran, and around the world. When scholars and students are attacked for peacefully exercising their right to academic freedom, the perpetrator signals to all of us that conducting research, learning, and asking difficult questions can come at a cost. We’re standing with Wang because it’s the right thing to do, but we’re also reaffirming our commitment to core human rights and democratic values.”