Iran Frees American Princeton University Student Xiyue Wang in Prisoner Swap

As part of a prisoner exchange, the Iranian government freed a Princeton University graduate student Saturday held since 2016 on espionage charges that the U.S. characterized as "fabricated."

Xiyue Wang, a fourth-year Princeton University doctoral student of late 19th and early 20th-century Eurasian history, was released by Iran as part of a prisoner swap for Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani.

Wang, 38, was first arrested in August 2016 and charged with espionage before being sentenced to 10 years in Iranian prison. U.S. officials have repeatedly denied the Princeton graduate student had any intelligence ties and said he was arrested on "fabricated national-security related charges."

Wang, who has a wife and a young child in the U.S., was flown in a Swiss government airplane from Tehran to Zurich Saturday to meet with Brian H. Hook, the U.S. State Department's special representative from Iran, U.S. officials told The New York Times.

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"Our family is complete once again," reads a statement from Wang's wife, Hua Qu. "Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day, and it's hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue. We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen."

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According to a Princeton University website page about Wang, he was working on a Ph.D. dissertation at the time of his arrest across several countries in the region, he had been intending to leave Iran in order to conduct research in Russia. While in Iran, Wang studied decades-old archival materials about the Qajar dynasty, which ruled the region from 1785-1925.

A September 2018 United Nations panel agreed with the U.S., saying Iran had "no legal basis" for Wang's "arbitrary" imprisonment and urged his immediate release.

Between January 25 and March 10, 2016, Wang visited Iran to attend a Farsi language program at the Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies. Prior to his visit, his research plan was accepted by the Iranian interest section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington who issued his visa: "He was not involved in any political activities or social activism," the school wrote then.

But Iran ended up charging Wang anyway in 2016, claiming he'd been "sent" to Iran by Princeton on behalf of U.S. government intelligence agencies.

The White House and the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland issued statements welcoming Wang home.

"After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States," read the Saturday White House statement. "The highest priority of the United States is the safety and well-being of its citizens. Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas."

"Amb. McMullen was honored to present the American flag to freed U.S. prisoner Xiyue Wang, who has been held on false charges in Iran for 3 years," read a tweet from the embassy, showing the ambassador and Wang embracing outside the plane.

"Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly. Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government," Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted. He also posted several photographs of himself talking with Soleimani on his concurrent flight back to Iran.

Trump administration officials told The New York Times they believe Iran only released Wang in order to soften its image and to deflect attention from the hundreds dead and thousands imprisoned during a recent crackdown on mass domestic protests.

U.S. officials told the Times that the deal was not part of larger talks between the two governments.

Last week, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei made clear that the U.S. and Iran are still enemies, despite Zarif's claims of reconciliation and Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" against the country.

"Our main enemy, the US govt, is one of the evilest, cruelest govts in the world. It supports terrorists like #ISIS and the #ZionistRegime and dictatorships such as the Shah in Iran and the cruel Saudi family. US police kill #AfroAmericans w/out excuse and are acquitted in courts," according to a recent tweet.

Xiyue Wang
In a picture from a Princeton University press release are Xiyue Wang and his family, prior to his detention in Iran in 2016. Hua Qu/Princeton University press release
Iran Frees American Princeton University Student Xiyue Wang in Prisoner Swap | World