Ed McMullen, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, greets Xiyue Wang in Zurich.
Courtesy U.S. Embassy in Switzerland and Liechtenstein
Historian plans to return to his Ph.D. work, adviser says

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

“Our family is complete once again,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement. “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 he planned to return to Princeton after “a routine multiday medical examination” at a U.S. medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany. Wang plans to return to 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 in history 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, while U.S. officials, Princeton leaders, and Wang’s family and fellow students denied that he was a spy or involved in political activities.

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 Wang was evaluated at a military hospital. An official told reporters that Wang appeared healthy and in good spirits.

Throughout his time in prison, graduate students, University officials, and others in the Princeton community ensured that he 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.” Wang remained a registered graduate student.

“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 that Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, had met regularly with Iranian and U.S. officials to set the terms of 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.