December 11, 2019

Princeton Student Freed After Three Years Of Imprisonment in Iran

By Anne Levin

The release last week of Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Wang, imprisoned in Iran for the past three years, was reason to rejoice for his family and members of the University community.

Jailed on espionage charges after traveling to Tehran to study Farsi and do research for his dissertation on 19th and early 20th-century Eurasian history, the 38-year-old, third-year doctoral student was freed in a prisoner exchange with Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist arrested last year and convicted on charges he violated trade sanctions against Iran.

““The entire Princeton University community is overjoyed that Xiyue Wang can finally return home to his wife and young son, and we look forward to welcoming him back to campus,” University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in an issued statement. “We are grateful to everyone, at Princeton and beyond, who has supported Xiyue and his family throughout his unjust imprisonment, and for all the efforts that have led to his release. We would like to especially extend our thanks to the United States government, the government of Switzerland, and the students, faculty, and staff who continued to advocate for Xiyue’s freedom throughout this ordeal.”

Wang’s wife Hua Qu also issued a statement. “Our family is complete again,” she said. “Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day, and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”

Following his release, Wang was flown to Zurich in a Swiss government plane. He was met by Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, who had negotiated the exchange, and flown to Germany for medical evaluation. The checkup revealed Wang to be healthy and in good spirits.

The University community kept Wang’s predicament at the forefront during his imprisonment. He was originally sentenced to 10 years. The most recent gathering was this past October on Chancellor Green, where Wang’s wife spoke and said she was torn between feeling optimistic about his release and being cautious, according to a December 10 article
in the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Numerous organizations and individuals have released statements since Wang’s release. U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was a co-sponsor of a bipartisan resolution urging Iran to release Wang. He led a 2017 letter urging the U.S. Department of State to take steps to secure the release of Wang and other Americans wrongfully detained in Iran.

“I’m elated that, after three years of painful separation and uncertainty, Princeton University student Xiyue Wang and his family will finally be reunited,” Booker said. “This is the outcome that New Jerseyans and those around the globe who followed this unjust and politically motivated ordeal had hoped for. I’m grateful for the efforts of those who worked tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes to help bring Xiyue Wang home. Their relentless pursuit of justice is proof that diplomacy is absolutely essential.”

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which “promotes global peace and dialogue by identifying and working on areas of opportunity for engagement and citizen diplomacy with countries and communities not usually open to more formal diplomatic channels,” according to its website, also issued a statement. Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, worked closely on behalf of Wang’s wife to end his imprisonment.

“Securing Wang’s release involved multifaceted efforts and negotiations, relying on personal relations and respect,” the statement reads. “Governor Richardson and the Richardson Center want to thank the Qatari Government for their partnership in helping secure the release of the wrongfully detained. The Qataris efforts, and those of others, often go understated and thus less known to the American public.”

According to the article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Wang’s doctoral adviser, history professor Stephen Kotkin, said he had spoken to Wang by phone after his release and that he plans to return to his doctoral work at the University when he returns.