Iran sentences Chinese-American Princeton historian Xiyue Wang to 10 years for espionage
Wang, who spent a year in Hong Kong, was accused of illegally gathering information on behalf of the US, but correspondence suggests he was trying to work with academics to access Iranian archives
An Iranian court has sentenced a Chinese-American scholar to 10 years’ jail on spying charges.
A spokesman for Iran’s judiciary who announced the case on Sunday did not name the person or give any details about when the sentence was passed, but said the person was a citizen of the United States and an unnamed country other than Iran.
“This person, who was gathering information and was directly guided by America, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the sentence can be appealed,” spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said on state media.
But Mizan, the Iranian judiciary’s official news site, later identified the American as Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old historian from Princeton University who was born in Beijing and whom it said was “spying under the cover of research”.
The US State Department did not identify its jailed citizen, but accused Iran of fabricating national security-related charges to detain Americans and foreigners.
“We call for the immediate release of all US citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” a State Department official said. “All US citizens, especially dual nationals, considering travel to Iran should carefully read our latest travel warning.”
Wang was arrested on August 8, 2016 while trying to leave the country, Mizan reported.
Mizan said he was part of “an infiltration project” aimed at gathering “highly confidential articles” for US and British institutions, including Princeton, the US State Department, Harvard’s Kennedy School and the British Institute for Persian Studies.
“Before his arrest he was able to digitally archive 4,500 pages of the country’s documents, while under covert surveillance,” said Mizan online.
The documents were said to be taken from “research and cultural archives” and “the libraries of some state organisations”.
Mizan’s website published an excerpt from a British Institute of Persian Studies annual report, in which Wang thanked its librarian for helping him make contact with academics in Iran.
The report claimed this as “proof” that Wang was on a covert mission, although the quote shows Wang was openly trying to work with academics to access a number of official archives in Tehran and Mashhad.
In its statement, the US State Department said it was “aware of reports regarding Xiyue Wang, a US citizen detained in Iran”.
It added: “We continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for US citizens who need our assistance overseas especially for the release of any unjustly detained US citizens held overseas.”
In January, Tehran’s chief prosecutor said as many as 70 “spies” were serving sentences in the city’s prisons, but the identities of only a handful have been made public. Most are thought to be Iranians who hold passports from Europe or the United States.
In October, US-Iranian business consultant Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father Baquer, a former Unicef official, were given 10 years in prison for “espionage and collaboration with the American government”. Washington has repeatedly called for their release and for Tehran’s cooperation in the case of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007.
The news comes amid tensions between the two countries as US President Donald Trump and Congress have taken increasingly harsh positions against Iran.
Trump has promised to tear up the 2015 deal struck between Iran and world powers, including the United States, that lifted some sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing denied Wang, who holds dual Chinese and American citizenship, was a Chinese national, saying China does not recognise dual nationality.
“As he has American citizenship, I can tell you that he is definitely not a Chinese national,” said spokesman Lu Kang.
Additional reporting by Reuters