Xiyue Wang GS embraces Edward McMullen, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, in Zurich after Wang’s release from prison in Iran.
Courtesy U.S. Embassy in Switzerland and Liechtenstein
Graduate student, held for three years, released in prisoner exchange with Iran

Xiyue Wang, the Princeton graduate student who had been imprisoned in Evin Prison in Iran since 2016, was freed Dec. 6 in a prisoner exchange. 

“Our family is complete once again,” said 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.”

Wang’s doctoral adviser, history professor Stephen Kotkin, said he had spoken by phone with Wang after his release and said his student planned to return to Princeton after evaluation at a U.S. medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany. Wang plans to continue his Ph.D. work, Kotkin said.

Kotkin told PAW that upon Wang’s return to campus, “He and I have an appointment to go to Firestone together, to our joint favorite nook in the beautifully renovated library, where he and I used to run into each other often, and where I have not returned since his arrest.”

Wang, 38 and a naturalized U.S. citizen, was a third-year doctoral student when he went to Tehran in April 2016 to study Farsi and conduct research for his doctoral dissertation on 19th- and early-20th-century Eurasian history. He spent his time in the archives, studying documents that were more than a century old. 

Iran sentenced Wang to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, while U.S. officials, Princeton leaders, and Wang’s family and fellow students denied that he was a spy or involved in political activities. 

“Our family is complete once again. Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day.”

— Hua Qu, wife of Xiyue Wang GS

Upon his release, Wang was flown in a Swiss government plane to Zurich. There he met Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, who had negotiated the exchange, according to The New York Times. Hook accompanied Wang to Germany, where he said Wang was reunited with his family. Hook told NPR Wang was “in excellent condition, and he’s tough. I really admire his bravery.” 

Throughout his time in prison, graduate students, University officials, and others in the Princeton community ensured that Wang was not forgotten — most recently, with a rally Oct. 3 in Chancellor Green (On the Campus, Dec. 4). At that event, his wife, Qu, noted that his case had received more media attention in recent weeks, but that she was torn between being optimistic about Wang’s release or being cautious “about any fake hope that could easily let me down again.” 

“The entire Princeton University community is overjoyed that Xiyue Wang can finally return home to his wife and young son, and we look forward to welcoming him back to campus,” said President Eisgruber ’83. “We are grateful to everyone, at Princeton and beyond, who has supported Xiyue and his family throughout his unjust imprisonment, and for all the efforts that have led to his release. We would like to especially extend our thanks to the United States government, the government of Switzerland, and the students, faculty, and staff who continued to advocate for Xiyue’s freedom throughout this ordeal.”

In the prisoner swap, the United States freed Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist who was arrested last year and convicted on charges that he violated trade sanctions against Iran. 

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, an organization that promotes communications between countries with strained diplomatic channels, released a statement saying that the center had worked for more than 20 months on Wang’s behalf. The center said Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, had met regularly with Iranian and U.S. officials about the terms for Wang’s release.

“Wang’s love for the life of the mind helped him endure his unjust ordeal, and will enable him to complete his degree with distinction,” Kotkin told The Daily Princetonian.