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Wife of Princeton Scholar Held in Iran Implores Trump to Intervene

Hua Qu speaks to people attending a vigil for Xiyue Wang at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Sept. 15, 2017.
Hua Qu speaks to people attending a vigil for Xiyue Wang at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. Sept. 15, 2017.

The wife of Princeton student Xiyue Wang, imprisoned in Tehran on spying charges while conducting dissertation research in Iran, is imploring U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene in her husband’s case, saying the White House is the focus of “all my hope.”

In an interview from Beijing with VOA’s Mandarin Service, Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said, “I have tried all kinds of avenues in the past but at the end of the day, the White House must step [in] to push Iran to release him.

“Really, all my hope is in the White House, in the Trump administration,” Qu said.

Detained in 2016

Wang, who was born in China, is a U.S. citizen enrolled in a doctoral program at Princeton University. A website associated with Iran’s judiciary said that Wang “collected a lot of classified information” during the course of his academic work in Iran.

He was detained in August 2016 and was subsequently convicted of “collaborating with foreign governments” and sent to prison. Tehran’s prosecutor confirmed in September that his appeal was rejected.

Princeton, Qu and U.S. authorities have denied he was involved in any improper activities, and U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the State Department has repeatedly called for his release, including again this week.

“We continue to call for Mr. Wang and all unjustly detained prisoners to be released immediately,” Nauert said Wednesday. “We strongly condemn Iran’s subjecting Mr. Wang and other prisoners to these forced video appearances. … We call on Iran to immediately release him.

“Princeton University has confirmed to us that Mr. Wang is a graduate student who was conducting legitimate research in Iran,” Nauert said. “He has no association with the U.S. government and has never passed any information to the U.S. government about Iran.”

Studying Qajar dynasty

Wang was studying Farsi and conducting innocuous research on late 19th- and early 20th-century Iran, Nauert said.

“The rich history of Persian civilization is one that should be celebrated and studied,” she said. “The notion that research on the Qajar dynasty poses a threat to anyone is absurd.”

Daniel Day, Princeton’s assistant vice president of communications, said in a statement that “Mr. Wang was in Iran solely for the purpose of studying Farsi and doing scholarly research in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation.”

Iran’s accusations

When Iran media issued a government-approved report of Wang’s August 2016 arrest, it said he was 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. Sentenced to 10 years in July, his appeal was denied in August.

Day said Wang was studying historical records that pertained to the administrative and cultural history of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled from 1785 to 1925.

“His dissertation topic was not suggested to him by Princeton, the U.S. government, or anyone else,” Day said. “He selected his own topic and areas of research. He has no connection to any government or intelligence agencies, and the charge that he was engaged in espionage is completely false. He studied the archival materials solely for his own research, and to our knowledge did not share them with anyone at Princeton or elsewhere.”

Health suffering

Qu told VOA that her husband has suffered from serious health problems since his detention.

“He cries. He cries a lot,” Qu said. “I have never seen him cry before. To me, this seems like a symptom of depression.”

Wang has also had suicidal thoughts, a conclusion she reached after he told her of wanting to smash a glass to cut himself. “Mentally, he knows it’s not right” and he hasn’t done anything but he has that urge, she said.

After all, Qu said, Wang is a “victim” of U.S.-Iran political relations.

“What is happening has nothing to do with him as an individual,” Qu said. “He’s simply an innocent student. He has no value to Iran. He’s just a student.”

In July, President Trump warned Iran to release American citizens detained in the Islamic Republic.

“President Trump has spoken for him, too,” Qu said. “He said the U.S. government will protect Wang Xiyue’s interest, will rescue him. Now I hope he can really keep his promise and bring Wang Xiyue home.”

Beibei Su contributed to this report, which originated on VOA Mandarin.