ISTANBUL — A Chinese American student Iran has accused of espionage was sentenced by an Iranian court to 10 years in prison, the judiciary’s official news agency reported Sunday; a move likely to raise tensions with the already hawkish Trump administration.
The Mizan news agency named the American as 37-year-old Xiyue Wang, a graduate student and researcher at Princeton University. Earlier in the day, judicial spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi announced that a U.S. citizen had been sentenced for “infiltration,” but did not release further details.
“It was verified and determined that he was gathering (information) and was involved in infiltration,” Ejehi said at a news conference in Tehran, the Associated Press reported.
Mizan, which is affiliated with Iran’s hard-line judiciary, later reported that Wang had been sentenced as part of an “infiltration project” that included the gathering of “confidential articles.” The report, which included a photo from the Princeton University website, published a quote from Wang in which he had praised the British Institute of Persian Studies for facilitating access to Iran’s National Archives and other libraries. The quote was used as evidence of his spying activities, the report said.
“I have been having trouble accessing Tehran’s archives and libraries,” Wang said in the 2015-2016 annual report of the British Institute of Persian Studies, a nonprofit based in London.
“Mrs Reyhanpour offered to help,” he said of one of the institute’s employees. “And within a few days, she put me in contact with senior scholars at the National Archive … Without Mrs. Reyhanpour’s help it would be hard to imagine how long it would have taken for me to become acquainted with academic institutions in Iran.”
Princeton University did not respond to a request for comment. Stephen Kotkin, Wang’s apparent adviser, lists Wang’s PhD thesis as “Islamic Inner Asia” on his website. Kotkin was also unavailable for comment.
“The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security related changes,” a State Department official said in an emailed statement Sunday. “We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families.”
It was unclear how long Wang may have been in Iranian custody, but Mizan reported authorities arrested him in August 2016 as he was leaving the country. Facebook and LinkedIn pages with Wang’s photo and similar work and study history indicate he studied at Harvard University from 2006 to 2008, and later worked as a Pashto language interpreter for the International Committee for the Red Cross in Afghanistan.
Also Sunday, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was detained for unspecified financial crimes, the judicial spokesman said. Hossein Fereidoun is a closer adviser of the president and was involved in the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal with world powers. Hard-line conservatives in Iran had long accused him of corruption.
Carol Morello contributed reporting from Washington.