July 21, 2017

Iran Sentences PU Grad Student to Prison

XIYUE WANG AND FAMILY: Shown here with his wife Hua Qu and their son, Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student in the history department, was arrested in Iran last summer while doing research for his doctoral dissertation and has been sentenced by Iranian authorities to 10 years in prison for espionage. (Family Photo Via Princeton University)

An Iranian court announced Sunday that it has sentenced Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student in the history department, to 10 years in prison for spying. A Chinese-born U.S. citizen, Mr. Wang, 37, was arrested last summer in Iran while conducting research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty for his PhD dissertation.

“Xiyue Wang is a fantastic scholar,” said Stephen Kotkin, Princeton history and international affairs professor and Mr. Wang’s advisor. “He chose as his PhD thesis topic an incredibly difficult, ambitious project, which required field work at multiple sites in a complex region.”

Stating that Mr. Wang is innocent of all charges in his work, which is involved with 100-year-old documents, Mr. Kotkin continued, “He is a man of boundless intellectual curiosity, the kind of person who reads and reads and reads, then asks you for more suggestions. He is also uncommonly sincere, with impeccable manner, a person who is a joy to be around.”

In a statement issued Sunday, Princeton University reported that since Mr. Wang’s arrest last summer it “has worked with Mr. Wang’s family, the U.S. government, private counsel, and others to facilitate his release.”

The statement continued, “We were very distressed by the charges brought against him in connection with his scholarly activities, and by his subsequent conviction and sentence. 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. In the interim, the University will continue to do everything it can to be supportive of Mr. Wang and his family.”

Although the University had known about the arrest during the past year, “the University and his family kept the matter confidential on the recommendation of multiple advisers inside and outside of government who counseled us that publicity might be harmful to our student’s interests,” according to a statement issued yesterday by Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber.

Hua Qu, Mr. Wang’s wife, also issued a statement. “My husband, Xiyue Wang, is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and most loving men I have ever known,” she wrote. “He has been a devoted husband to me and a father to our 4-year-old son. Our son has missed his father for more than a year of his young life, as my husband has been unjustly imprisoned for espionage that I know he did not and never would commit. My husband has long been deeply interested in 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, and he was in Iran last summer solely for purposes of learning Farsi and doing scholarly research for his PhD dissertation. We fervently hope that the Iranian authorities will release him soon so that he can return home to his young family.”

The Iranian media reported that Mr. Wang had been convicted for being “an infiltrating American agent.” In a weekly press briefing on state television in Tehran on Sunday, Iranian judiciary spokesman Ghollamhossein Mohseni Eje’i stated, “this person, who was gathering intelligence and was directly guided by the U.S., was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the sentence can be appealed.”

The Mizan Online news agency, affiliated with the Iranian judiciary, said that Mr. Wang had pursued espionage “through the cover of being a researcher” and had been gathering information for organizations such as the U.S. State Department, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the British Institute of Persian Studies.

The U.S. State Department has accused Iran of fabricating security-related charges to detain Americans and others. “We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” a State Department official wrote in an email statement on Sunday. “All U.S. citizens, especially dual nationals, considering travel to Iran should carefully read our latest travel warning.”

The news of Mr. Wang’s arrest and sentencing came at a time of high tension in relations between Iran and the U.S. Sunday marked the second anniversary of the nuclear agreement between Iran and Western nations, at a point where President Trump, who has repeatedly criticized that deal, is considering whether Iran is honoring its side of the agreement.

In his statement discussing efforts to secure Mr. Wang’s release “from the unjust detention that has threatened his health, pained his family, and distressed all who learned of his plight,” Mr. Eisgruber further stated, “Xiyue’s well-being remains of paramount concern. We will continue our support for him and his family as well as our efforts to secure his release. We hope the appellate authorities will look mercifully on him when they review his case this summer, and that they will allow this genuine scholar, devoted husband, and caring father to return home to our University and to the wife and young child who miss him dearly.”