An American graduate student has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying, according to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, and Iranian media. A U.S. citizen “was gathering intelligence and was directly guided by the U.S.,” Ejehi announced at a weekly press briefing on July 16. He noted the sentence could be appealed, but did not elaborate or reveal the individual’s name. Mizan Online News Agency, however, later identified the person in question as 37-year-old Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born doctoral candidate at Princeton University. The university confirmed his identity in a statement explaining that he “was arrested in Iran last summer, while there doing scholarly research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation.”
The Mizan report, citing an anonymous source, alleged that Wang had been using his academic research as a cover and was working on a 4,500-page digital archive for “the world’s biggest anti-Iran spying organization.” The article said he infiltrated Iran’s national archive and gathered secret and top-secret intelligence for the U.S. State Department, the Harvard Kennedy School and the British Institute of Persian Studies.
Wang’s family and Princeton University had not previously released information about his arrest in the hope that he would be released. State Department officials told journalists that they were aware of the reports about the American but that they would not detail efforts on this case or others for privacy reasons. “The Iranian regime continues to detain US citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security-related changes," an official said.
In past years, several dual citizens, mostly Iranian-Americans, have been imprisoned on similar charges. Four were freed as part of a swap in January 2016 that also included an American student. Several other U.S. citizens and a permanent resident are currently held in Iranian jails. The following is the statement issued by the Princeton University on July 16 and a statement from Wang’s wife.
Princeton University Office of Communications
“Xiyue Wang is a fourth-year doctoral candidate (graduate student) in the Department of History at Princeton University. His field is late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history. He was arrested in Iran last summer, while there doing scholarly research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation. Since his arrest, the university has worked with Mr. Wang’s family, the U.S. government, private counsel and others to facilitate his release.
“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.”
—July 16, 2017
Hua Qu (Wang’s wife)
My husband, Xiyue Wang, is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and most loving men I have ever known. He has been a devoted husband to me and a father to our four-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 Ph.D. dissertation as a graduate student in history at Princeton University. We fervently hope that the Iranian authorities will release him soon so that he can return home to his young family.
—July 18, 2017, in a statement