American convicted in Iran known for his ‘curiosity’
ISTANBUL – An American scholar jailed in Iran for espionage is “linguistically gifted” and had “unbounded intellectual curiosity” in pursuing his doctorate at Princeton University, his adviser said Monday, adding to an emerging portrait of the graduate student whose 10-year sentence was announced by Iranian authorities the previous day.
Xiyue Wang, 37, was detained in August while researching the Qajar Dynasty for his dissertation, Princeton said Sunday. His arrest, however, was not made public until last weekend, when the verdict was announced.
Wang, who is married and has a son, was accused of using his status as a researcher to send Iranian documents to the U.S. government and Western universities, according to a report from the official news agency of Iran’s judiciary. His trial was apparently conducted in secret. The verdict can still be appealed, a spokesman for the judiciary said.
“He is innocent of all the charges. In Tehran, Wang collected documents that were 100 years old,” said Stephen Kotkin, Wang’s adviser.
Wang was interested in predominantly Muslim areas across Eurasia, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kotkin said. The Qajar Dynasty ruled the late Persian Empire from 1785 to 1925.
“He’s deeply interested in that region,” Kotkin said, adding that Wang, who was born in Beijing, speaks Chinese, Persian, Russian and Pashto.
Wang, whose travel was financed by Princeton and other academic fellowships, is the latest foreign national to be arrested by Iranian security services and convicted in closed-door proceedings, often on vague charges and without access to a lawyer, human rights groups say.
Iran’s judiciary, which answers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is a stronghold of conservatives opposed to the country’s rapprochement with the West. Under the current system, prosecutors regularly lack evidence and punishments are harsh, including against political dissidents and those accused of national security offenses.