Views from the Edge
Xiyue Wang recently tried to commit suicide in a prison in Iran where he is accused of spying for the US, said his wife.
The wife of the Chinese American graduate student pleaded with the Trump administration on Tuesday (Nov. 28) to do more to secure her husband’s release.
In an exclusive broadcast interview with NBC News, Qu Hua revealed that her husband has attempted suicide during his almost 16 months in prison.
“Only the U.S. government can sort this out, only the U.S. government can help us,” she said. “I hope President Trump can open up a dialogue with Iranian authorities to discuss a resolution of my husband’s case.”
Late Sunday (Nov. 26), Iranian state TV aired a feature focused on Wang, a Chinese-born American graduate student at Princeton who is accused of passing confidential information about Iran to the US State Department. He was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton officials, who said he was in Iran to learn Farsi and conduct research for his dissertation.
Iranian authorities allege Wang scanned some 4,500 pages of digital documents, paid thousands of dollars to access archives he needed and sought access to confidential areas of Tehran libraries. State TV aired footage of him in what appeared to be an Iranian courtroom, those around him blurred out, as well as footage of him emotional and later talking to a camera, as well as an image of his Iranian visa and a school ID.
“About Iran in that regard, the more knowledge the United States possesses about Iran, the better for its policy toward Iran,” he said in the footage. “There is no doubt about it. It is quite obvious.” That quote made it appear as if he was justifying his so-called spying activities. Most likely that footage was taken out of context as he explained why he was doing historical research in Iran.
Wang, 36, is a Chinese-born naturalized American citizen. He and his wife have a 4-year-old son.
The Princeton student was arrested in August 2016 while carrying out research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty for his Ph.D., according to the university, his wife and the U.S. government.
For months, his wife and Princeton worked quietly toward winning his release without making a public statement.
The case came to public attention this July after Iran announced that Wang had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was convicted of “spying under the cover of research,” according to the Mizan Online News Agency, the Iranian judiciary’s news service. A spokesman for the judiciary alleged Wang had been “directly guided by America.” Wang was also accused of seeking to access confidential areas of a library and “assisting a hostile government.”
He was kept in solitary confinement for 18 days before being transported to Evin Prison, the Tehran facility that houses most of the country’s political prisoners.
His condition has recently improved, but he is still “very desperate,” his wife added. “He is extremely stressed, he has depression and he attempted to commit suicide, and he had multiple diseases.”
She had not seen her husband for more than a year until Iranian state TV aired footage late Sunday showing Wang and accusing him of trying to steal 4,500 documents.
“I was shocked and I was extremely upset that my husband is misrepresented on Iran’s state television,” Qu told NBC News. “He went to Iran with all the required approvals. He openly and honestly disclosed his interests in looking at the historical documents.”
Qu, 35, said she believes Iran knows that her husband is an legitimate scholar and that he was only targeted because he is an American.
“He’s innocent and he is just a student. He has no connection with any government agency, he’s not doing any secret project for any agency, for any secret institution,” she told NBC.
WATCH the Iranian broadcast here ( Editor’s Note: It is in Farsi. Sorry, I can’t provide a translation, but portions are in English):
Advocates for Americans imprisoned in Iran have warned that Donald Trump’s hardline stance toward the country would make the captives’ release more difficult. Trump has branded Iran’s government a “murderous regime” and warned of its “sinister vision for the future.”
Stephen Kotkin, Wang’s adviser at Princeton, told the Washington Post that Wang was a gifted scholar who was impressed with Persian culture.
“Xiyue Wang is a remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student studying late 19th- and early 20th-century governance in predominantly Muslim regions — Qajar Iran, Afghanistan, imperial Russian Turkestan,” he said. “He is innocent of all the charges. In Tehran, Wang collected documents that were 100 years old. He has told me often of his exhilaration at the exquisiteness and depth of Persian civilization.”
According to CNN, Wang was raised in China and earned a bachelor’s degree in South Asian studies from the University of Washington.
His Facebook page lists Beijing as his hometown, Wang is proficient in Pashto, a language spoken in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and Hindi.
For a time, he worked as a translator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he helped Afghans traumatized by violence and death from the American-led war against the Taliban, according to the NY Times.
He also studied Russian and Eurasian studies at Harvard University, according to a biography of Wang from Princeton in Asia program, where he did a fellowship from 2008 to 2009.
Wang is one of seven U.S. citizens or permanent residents currently detained by Iran, according to The Associated Press. The State Department has expressed its concern about the reported deteriorating health of the prisoners.
Following Iran’s announcement of the charges in July, the State Department called on the Tehran government to release Wang “and all other unjustly detained U.S. citizens, so that they can be reunited with their families.”
Qu said that the past year has tested her belief that her husband will return.
“I don’t know how long this will last, but every month I have hope that he can come home at any time, that they would automatically release him quietly,” she said. “But my hope of his return has been shattered time and time again throughout the past year because all of this.”
She told NBC: “I will continue. I will never give up, because he’s innocent.”
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