Princeton graduate student sentenced to 10 years in prison by Iran for espionage

He was featured by Chinese news agencies for humanitarian work in Afghanistan

A Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Iranian court over accusations of espionage, according to the Mizan News Agency, a website affiliated with the Iranian judiciary.

Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old history scholar, was convicted over recording some 4,500 pages of confidential digital documents from Iranian archives for the US State Department, Princeton’s Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, the Harvard Kennedy School and the British Institute of Persian Studies. In 2016, the institute at Princeton conducted the Iran Social Survey (ISS), in which it collected key data on socio-economic features and social dynamics of residents Iran.

Mizan also reported that Wang was accused of being involved in an “infiltration project.”

Wang, born in Beijing, was reportedly arrested as he was leaving the country in August of 2016. He had previously studied Russian at Harvard University and is a fluent speaker of Farsi, according to the Washington Post.

Though Mizan among other news agencies reported Wang to be a dual citizen of the People’s Republic of China and of the United States, China does not recognize dual citizenship. A Chinese citizen who acquires a foreign nationality must relinquish his or her Chinese citizenship, according to an affiliate of a Chinese consulate. While the US does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Iran, China has established official relations.

The Tab has reached out to the Chinese embassy for comment.

Daniel Day, Assistant Vice President for Communications, issued the following statement regarding the ruling:

“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.”

In February, the university facilitated the process for seven scholars abroad at the time in countries affected by Trump’s travel ban, including Iran, to return to the United States.

According to a feature that appeared on a magazine published by the state-run China News Service in 2010, Wang served as a Pashtun interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. The article stated that he was the sole Chinese national working in Afghanistan with the ICRC at the time. There, Wang had aided the efforts of emergency health workers in war zones and had even visited obscure locations to retrieve injured or deceased Taliban combatants for treatment or burial, the story said. Wang’s team had negotiated with the Talibans to clear paths for refugees and the vulnerable living in conflict zones. Wang had also traversed upon an American military base with around 1,000 imprisoned combatants. The ICRC had scheduled a visit every six weeks there to check on the welfare of the prisoners.

“No matter if you are Taliban or not, or whether you had done something wrong, that is of no importance to us. What we really care about is that while detained by the American military, whether you have enough food, water, and if you are Muslim, whether you have religious freedom, whether you can pray, seek a doctor, or ask to see your family,” Wang was quoted saying in the article.

Wang also told the China News Service that he profoundly cherishes the opportunity he had in Afghanistan and made a vow to never go too far away.

“After all, how many people would get to have a good chat with the Talibans?” He said. He further stated that with greater understanding of the geopolitical region, he hopes to one day establish his own research institution dedicated to the Middle East.

Wang’s humanitarian works have been highlighted by multiple media agencies in China.

Princeton University