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American citizen sentenced to 10 years in Iran on spying conviction

Posted July 16
Updated July 17

An American researcher has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying, according to Iran.

Princeton University identified the man as Chinese-born Xiyue Wang, an American citizen and graduate student in history. Wang was arrested in Iran last summer while doing scholarly research in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation, a university statement said.

Earlier Sunday, the semi-official news agency Fars News, citing a video statement from Iranian judicial spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejheie, initially identified the convicted man's nationality as Iranian-American. Later, Fars News, again citing Mohseni-Ejheie, said he was a citizen of the United States and a country other than Iran.

The dates of Wang's trial have not been disclosed. He was arrested and put on trial for "gathering information," and the sentence can be appealed, said Mohseni-Ejheie, speaking in the Fars News video statement.

According to Iranian law, a convicted person has 20 days to appeal a sentence.

Since Wang's arrest, Princeton officials said they have worked with his family, private counsel and others to aid his release.

"We were very distressed by the charges brought against him in connection with his scholarly activities, and by his subsequent conviction and sentence," Daniel Day, university spokesman said. "His family and the university are ... hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran."

US: Release 'all citizens held unjustly in Iran'

A US State Department official told CNN they "are aware of reports regarding" Wang. Citing privacy reasons, the official declined to go into detail about specific consular cases.

The State Department is calling for the immediate release of all citizens held unjustly in Iran, the official said.

"The Iranian regime continues to detain US citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security-related changes," the official said. "The safety and security of US citizens remains a top priority. All US citizens, especially dual nationals considering travel to Iran, should carefully read our latest travel warning."

South Asia and Eurasia specialist

Wang was born and raised in Beijing, he said in a talk he gave to a study abroad agency, and didn't move abroad until he was 19.

According to his biography on the Princeton University website, he earned a bachelor's degree in South Asian studies from the University of Washington and studied Russian and Eurasian studies at Harvard University, where he did a fellowship from 2008 to 2009.

After working at an accounting firm in Hong Kong for a year, Wang chose to move to Afghanistan to become a Pashto translator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), according to Chinese-language tweets posted by ICRC in 2010.

Princeton said Wang's current field of study is late 19th and 20th century Eurasian history. His biography on the university website shows a man with a dry wit, a love for cooking Chinese dishes and traveling.

"For better or worse, (Wang) still can't tell you what exactly he has been studying in the many years that have passed," the biography said. "What he does know is that his dream is to walk the ancient Silk Road from Xi'an to Rome one day."

He also loves learning languages, the biography said.

Other Americans held in Iran

Other Americans have been held in Iran on spying charges and convictions.

In October 2016, San Diego resident Reza "Robin" Shahini was sentenced to 18 years in prison for spying. The US-Iranian citizen was visiting family in Gorgan, Iran. He was released on bail in April to await his appeal, The Center For Human Rights in Iran said.

Fast Facts: Americans Detained in Other Countries

Also in October 2016, Iran sentenced Iranian-Americans Baquer Namazi and his son Siamik to 10 years in prison and fined them $4.8 million for "collaborating with a foreign government," according to Iran's official news channel IRINN.

Siamak Namazi had been arrested almost a year before. He was the first US citizen held since the Iranian nuclear program agreement.

Four US prisoners were released last year by Iran as part of a prisoner swap granting clemency to seven Iranians indicted or imprisoned in the United States.

President's brother arrested

In the same announcement Sunday, the Iranian judicial spokesman said the brother of President Hassan Rouhani was arrested on charges of "financial irregularities."

Hossein Ferydoon has been under investigation along with others, Mohseni- Ejheie said. It is unclear how long the investigation has been ongoing.

Ferydoon can be released on bail as the investigation continues, Mohseni-Ejheie said. The amount of the bail wasn't disclosed.

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