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Iran Sends Chinese-American Scholar to Prison for 10 Years for 'Espionage'

  • VOA News

FILE - Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, deputy of the Chief Justice of Iran, March 14, 2017.

An Iranian court has sentenced a Chinese-American scholar to 10 years in prison on "infiltration" charges, Iran's judicial spokesman said Sunday. The announcement triggered an immediate protest from the U.S. State Department.

Xiyue Wang, 37, a dual national of China and the United States, was arrested nearly one year ago, according to Mizan Online, a news agency operated by the Iranian judiciary.

“The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security related changes,” the State Department said in a statement to news agencies. “We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families.”

At least four Iranian-Americans currently are being held in Iran, and a fifth is free pending an appeal of his sentence of 18 years in prison for alleged national-security crimes.

The deputy chief of Iran's judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, gave few details about the case involving Xiyue Wang when he announced the court action Sunday: "The person was identified and arrested by the intelligence forces. The court has sentenced the person to 10 years." The sentence can be appealed.

Princeton University officials identified Xiyue Wang as a researcher and fourth-year graduate student working toward a doctorate in Eurasian history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The government-approved report published in Tehran said Xiyue Wang was arrested on August 8, 2016, and accused of passing confidential information about Iran to the U.S. State Department, to Princeton's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, to the Harvard Kennedy School and to the British Institute of Persian Studies.

Wang “digitally archived” 4,500 pages of Iranian documents for foreign research institutions, according to Mizan Online. It published screenshots of Wang’s Princeton web page and an excerpt of a March 2016 report from the British institute that quoted Wang as saying he had been in contact with “senior scholars” at Iranian government archives in Tehran and Mashhad.

Mizan cited the statement as evidence that Wang was on a covert mission, even though the institute’s report was publicly available.

At least four Iranian-Americans are known to be detained or imprisoned in Iran: Baquer Namazi, 80, and his son Siamak are serving 10-year sentences in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and are believed to be in ill health. Also, Karan Vafadari, who owns an art gallery in Tehran, was arrested last July with his wife, who is a permanent U.S. resident.

American Gholamrez Reza Shahini of San Diego, California, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for national security crimes but has appealed the judgment and is free on bond.

The U.S. government has repeatedly called for the Americans’ release. An unknown number of Iranians holding European passports are also believed in custody in Iran; among them are Britons, Austrians and French citizens.

The Iranian judiciary also announced Sunday the detention of Hossein Fereidoun, brother of President Hassan Rouhani, on allegations of financial misconduct.

Indiana University analyst Hussein Banai told VOA there is a long history in Iran of the judiciary pushing back against establishment figures and sending the message that they should not try to be too independent.

"This is a way for the hardline judiciary to basically do the bidding of hardliners in the system since they don’t have representation in the executive branch," Banai said.

Rouhani won a second term in office in May.

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