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Princeton Student Sentenced to 10 Years Joins 6 Other U.S. Hostages Held by Iran

Princeton University confirmed Sunday that a graduate student researching his dissertation in Iran had been sentenced to 10 years behind bars on charges of espionage.

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency reported that an American had been convicted and sentenced, but didn't name dual Chinese-U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang. The news agency said Iran's Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Eje'i made the announcement on state TV, claiming he was "gathering intelligence and was directly guided by the U.S., was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but the sentence can be appealed." Fars said Iranian officials claimed Wang spied using a "sophisticated means" that wasn't detailed.

Xiyue Wang (Princeton University)

In a statement, Princeton said Wang is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history. "He was arrested in Iran last summer, while there doing scholarly research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation. Since his arrest, the university has worked with Mr. Wang’s family, the U.S. government, private counsel and others to facilitate 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," the statement continued. "His family and the university are distressed at his continued imprisonment and are hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran. In the interim, the university will continue to do everything it can to be supportive of Mr. Wang and his family.”

Professor Stephen Kotkin, who is Wang's doctoral adviser, told the Associated Press that the 37-year-old "is a remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student" and innocent.

Wang was arrested last August after Iran said he was scanning large quantities of documents and sending digital scans to the State Department, Princeton and Harvard. Kotkin said Wang was scanning historical documents -- a "normal, standard scholarly practice" -- that were about 100 years old. Wang got his bachelor's degree at the University of Washington and studied at Harvard before Princeton. He speaks English, Mandarin, Persian, Turkish and Pashto.

The State Department didn't directly address Wang's case, but said Iran holds Americans on "fabricated" charges and "the safety and security of U.S. citizens remain a top priority."

Asked at today's briefing about Wang, White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied that "with respect to that individual, he is someone that we're keeping an eye on."

Tweeted Washington Post staff writer Jason Rezaian, who was held by the regime from July 2014 to January 2016, "Pretty sure it will take more than urging to bring them home."

Wang joins half a dozen other U.S. citizens and residents being unjustly detained by Iran.

Robert Levinson