Yellow Ribbon Project

Wife of U.S. Hostage Frustrated as Xiyue Wang's Captivity Passes 900 Days

Hua Qu, the wife of Iran detainee Xiyue Wang, holds a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J., on May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The wife of a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran for more than 900 days hopes that a “Day of Action” Wednesday to raise awareness and lobby for the release of Xiyue Wang will spark momentum that will bring his case to the forefront.

Xiyue Wang is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history at Princeton University. He was in Iran conducting academic research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his dissertation.

Wang was arrested in August 2016 after Iran said he was scanning large quantities of documents and sending digital scans to the State Department, Princeton and Harvard. His doctoral adviser said Wang was scanning historical documents — a “normal, standard scholarly practice” — that were about 100 years old.

The husband and father of a young son was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Wang had previously visited Iran for nearly two months in early 2016 to study Farsi — the University of Washington graduate speaks English, Mandarin, Persian, Turkish and Pashto — and returned to continue his research that May. He was traveling on a student visa, was transparent about his research plans, and his agenda was approved by Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, has been lobbying the White House, State Department, Congress and the UN to help secure her husband’s release.

Qu told PRI in an interview aired Monday that the administration is “helping us, but we’re very concerned that there’s such an impasse in the Iran-U.S. dialogue, and the prospects for resuming direct talks is still pretty low.”

“The U.S. government has set such a high bar to engage Iran in a dialogue,” she said. “My husband’s situation is a humanitarian situation; it’s a tragedy and his release should be treated as a humanitarian necessity. Apart from new political security talks, the lack of such talks, my family does not deserve to be caught up in world politics and Xiyue should not be treated as a diplomatic pawn, a political pawn.”

The “Day of Action” at Princeton will include a “call-a-thon” to political representatives followed by a rally and moment of silence for Wang and his family. Qu said she is calling upon all universities to join the campaign to raise awareness of Wang’s plight “because my husband’s imprisonment is an enormous violation of academic freedom and human rights.”

“What happened to my husband could happen to any academic traveling overseas… I hope what happened to my husband won’t happen to anyone in the future,” she said.

“My son is turning 6 in a few weeks and he hasn’t seen his dad for more than half of his young childhood. And my son, he literally feels that his dad won’t come back,” Qu noted. “I’m just juggling this crisis management on a daily basis, being a single working mom and handling all the parenting challenges I’m extremely frustrated but I have to stay strong because if I fall apart, who can help my husband and the family? So I have to stay strong and look ahead, and just take one step at a time.”

Wang has been able to call Qu daily since his captivity was made public in 2017, but he hasn’t been able to receive a picture in more than two years.

Their son, she said, has been drawing his dad being held in a dungeon. “I can see he’s processing a lot of difficult information in his young mind and he’s under a lot of tension, too,” she said.