Iran sentences Chinese-American historian and detains President’s brother

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Iran’s authorities said they’ve sentenced a Chinese-American for 10 years for “infiltrating” the country and in the same tim they have detained President’s brother who is accused of financial misconduct.

According to Mizan Online, a website which is connected to judiciary, the Chinese-American’s identity is Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old historian. So far he was not known to be one of detained Americans in Iran.

“It was verified and determined that he was gathering (information) and was involved in infiltration,” Judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi told to the press.

Ejehi did not mention Wang’s name, it was published by Mizan few hour later, which also included some photos of him, taken from the internet. Article also said that he came to Iran as a researcher, and was born in Beijing. It mentioned his graduation at Princeton University in 2013 an 2014, and his ability to fluently speak Persian.

Princeton said in a statement that Wang was arrested last summer while doing a research for his PhD. It included gathering information about 1794-1925 Qajar dynasty

“We were very distressed by the charges brought against him in connection with his scholarly activities, and by his subsequent conviction and sentence,” the statement read. They also mentioned they are working with the U.S. government, Wang’s family and private counsel on his release. They are hoping he would be freed upon appeal.

His biography on the Princeton in Asia website said he was a fellow in Hong Kong in 2008-2009. He completed a bachelor’s degree in South Asian studies at the University of Washington and also did Russian and Eurasian studies at Harvard.

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

He was arrested last year on August 8, and is being held on account 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 he recorded some 4,500 pages of digital documents.

The U.S. State Department did not provide any details on the case, and it said its citizens’ safety is a top priority. The U.S. warned its
citizens that traveling to Iran could result in their arrest as they do not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Teheran.

“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.”

On the other side, arrest of the President Hassan Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereidoun was a big surprise for many. Ejehi said Fereidoun is detained over allegations of financial impropriety and is eligible for bail.

Fereidoun is a close confidante of the president, he was in the team that sealed Iran’s landmark nuclear deal in 2015. With that deal, Iran won the relief from sanctions in exchange for limits on its atomic energy program

Iranian hard-liners, who have big influence on judiciary, saw that deal as giving too much and getting too little in exchange. The hard-liner recently accused Fereidoun of money laundering and other misdeeds and misappropriation of government funds. They specifically used this during the elections, demanding immediate investigation of those accusations.

Wang is one of several Americans in Iranian custody. Karan Vafadari, manager of the Iranian-American art gallery was also detained along with his wife last year. So far they are not convicted. For “cooperating with the hostile American government”, Iranina-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, are each serving 10-year.

For the same reason, Robin Shahini, again Iranin-American, was serving 18 years but was released on bail last year, because he staged hunger strike.

Robert Levinson, former FBI agent is still missing after vanishing in Iran in 2007 while on CIA mission. Nizar Zaka a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon was sentenced to 10 years because of espionage-related charges.