U.S. stu­dent in Iran sen­tenced on spy­ing


TEHRAN, Iran — A U.S. stu­dent from Prince­ton Univer­sity was ar­rested in Iran and sen­tenced to 10 years in prison on charges he was spy­ing for the United States, an Ira­nian ju­di­ciary of­fi­cial said Sunday.

In the same news brief­ing, the Ira­nian ju­di­ciary said President Has­san Rouhani’s brother has been de­tained over al­le­ga­tions of fi­nan­cial mis­con­duct, au­thor­i­ties said Sunday.

News of the de­ten­tions comes less than two months af­ter rel­a­tive mod­er­ate Rouhani beat a hard-line

op­po­nent to win re-elec­tion by run­ning in large part on his record of pur­su­ing greater en­gage­ment with the West. They were an­nounced by the ju­di­ciary, a pil­lar of hard-lin­ers’ in­flu­ence.

The Chi­nese-American dual na­tional was iden­ti­fied as Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old grad­u­ate stu­dent in his­tory, by Mizan On­line, a web­site af­fil­i­ated with the ju­di­ciary.

Wang was not pre­vi­ously known to be among the hand­ful of Amer­i­cans de­tained in Iran.

“It was ver­i­fied and de­ter­mined that he was gath­er­ing [in­for­ma­tion] and was in­volved in in­fil­tra­tion,” ju­di­ciary spokesman Gho­lamho­sein

Mohseni Ejehi said dur­ing a rou­tine news brief­ing.

The Mizan ar­ti­cle said Wang was born in Bei­jing and en­tered Iran as a re­searcher. It pointed to grad­u­ate stud­ies he did at Prince­ton Univer­sity in 2013 and 2014, and de­scribed him as a flu­ent speaker of Per­sian.

The ar­ti­cle did not iden­tify Wang by name but in­cluded pho­tos of him, and in­cluded 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 ar­ti­cle said.

Prince­ton Univer­sity did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

“I have been hav­ing trou­ble ac­cess­ing Tehran’s ar­chives and li­braries,” Wang

said in the 2015-16 an­nual report of the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of Per­sian Stud­ies, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion 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.”

Wang was ar­rested Aug. 8 and is ac­cused of pass­ing confidential in­for­ma­tion about Iran to the U.S. State Depart­ment, Prince­ton’s Sharmin and Bi­jan Mos­savar-Rah­mani Cen­ter for Iran and Per­sian Gulf Stud­ies, the Har­vard Kennedy School and the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of Per­sian Stud­ies, ac­cord­ing to Mizan. Mizan al­leged that he recorded some 4,500 pages of dig­i­tal doc­u­ments.

The U.S. State Depart­ment was not im­me­di­ately able to pro­vide de­tails on the case. It said its cit­i­zens’ safety and se­cu­rity is a top pri­or­ity.

The U.S. does not main­tain for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions with Tehran and warns its cit­i­zens trav­el­ing there that they risk ar­rest or be­ing barred from leaving Iran.

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

Wang’s re­ported con­vic­tion comes at a par­tic­u­larly tense time for U.S.-Ira­nian re­la­tions, which have rapidly de­te­ri­o­rated since President Don­ald Trump took of­fice.

Un­der the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, the United States and other world pow­ers ne­go­ti­ated a deal with Iran to curb its nu­clear pro­gram

in ex­change for sanc­tions re­lief.

But since then, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has stepped up its anti-Iran rhetoric and placed U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the nu­clear deal un­der re­view. To­day is the dead­line for the White House to de­cide whether to is­sue a waiver on nu­clear-re­lated sanc­tions against Iran, a pro­vi­sion that is re­quired pe­ri­od­i­cally un­der the terms of the 2015 nu­clear deal. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to ap­prove the waiver, de­spite an in­ter­nal de­bate on how to re­spond to Iran’s hu­man-rights abuses and sup­port for mil­i­tant groups such as Hezbol­lah.

The ar­rest of the president’s brother, mean­while, stunned many in Iran.

Ejehi said the brother, Hos­sein Ferei­doun, was taken into cus­tody over al­le­ga­tions of fi­nan­cial im­pro­pri­ety and is el­i­gi­ble for bail, but has not paid it yet.

Ferei­doun is a close con­fi­dant of the mod­er­ate president, a cleric who changed his sur­name to Rouhani, mean­ing “spir­i­tual,” af­ter join­ing the sem­i­nary decades ago.

Ferei­doun was part of the ne­go­ti­at­ing team that ul­ti­mately sealed Iran’s land­mark nu­clear deal with world pow­ers in 2015, win­ning the coun­try re­lief from in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions in ex­change for lim­its on its atomic en­ergy pro­gram.

The deal was un­pop­u­lar with Ira­nian hard-lin­ers, whose in­flu­ence runs deep within the ju­di­ciary. They saw the nu­clear deal as giv­ing too much away in ex­change for too lit­tle.

Ferei­doun has long been a tar­get of hard-lin­ers, who have ac­cused him of mis­deeds in­clud­ing money laun­der­ing and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of gov­ern­ment funds.

The un­proven al­le­ga­tions were a flash point dur­ing the May pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, with the president’s hard-line chal­lengers de­mand­ing that the ju­di­ciary in­ves­ti­gate ac­cu­sa­tions against Ferei­doun.

Wang is one of sev­eral Amer­i­cans in Ira­nian cus­tody.

Ira­nian-American art gallery man­ager Karan Vafadari was de­tained along with his Ira­nian wife last year. They have yet to be con­victed of a crime.

Ira­nian-American busi­ness­man Sia­mak Na­mazi and his 81-year-old fa­ther, Ba­quer Na­mazi, are each serv­ing 10-year sen­tences for “co­op­er­at­ing with the hos­tile American gov­ern­ment.”

An­other Ira­nian-American, Robin Shahini, was re­leased on bond last year af­ter stag­ing a week­s­long hunger strike while serv­ing an 18-year prison sen­tence for “col­lab­o­ra­tion with a hos­tile gov­ern­ment.”

Still miss­ing is for­mer FBI agent Robert Levin­son, who van­ished in Iran in 2007 while on an unau­tho­rized CIA mis­sion.

Also in an Ira­nian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. per­ma­nent res­i­dent from Le­banon who ad­vo­cates for In­ter­net free­dom. He lives in Washington, D.C., and has done work for the U.S. gov­ern­ment. He was sen­tenced to 10 years be­hind bars last year af­ter be­ing ac­cused of es­pi­onage.

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