US-Iran Prisoner Swap Frees American Student Held for 3 Years
In a temporary softening of relations between the U.S. and Iran, the two countries agreed to a prisoner swap on Saturday.
Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang was freed by Iran on Saturday after serving three years of a ten-year sentence over two espionage charges. In exchange, the U.S. released Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian stem cell researcher arrested last year at a Chicago airport on charges of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
— Department of State (@StateDept) December 7, 2019
Wang was born in China but became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and was a fourth-year Ph.D. student allegedly conducting research in Iran when he was arrested in August 2016. At Princeton, Wang studied late 19th and early 20th-century Eurasian history and, with university funding, traveled to Iran to study Farsi and conduct research for his dissertation.
“He was not involved in any political activities or social activism; he was simply a scholar trying to gain access to materials he needed for his dissertation,” Princeton University said.
Before embarking on his trip, Wang explained the scope of his research project to the Iranian interest section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C., which gave Wang his visa.
Because the U.S. government and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations, a Swiss government plane was used to fly Wang from Iran to Zurich on Saturday where he met with American officials. Wang is currently in Germany where he will rest and undergo medical evaluations before continuing back to the U.S.
The White House announced Wang’s release on Saturday morning and thanked the Swiss government for their help in bringing Wang home.
“Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas,” President Donald Trump said in a statement.
In August Wang’s wife urgently called on the international community and the White House for help in releasing her husband. “My husband is an academic researcher. He’s a father, husband. He is not a political figure and he is definitely not a spy,” Qu said at the National Press Club in Washington
News of Massoud Soleimani’s release first came via a tweet from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who shared photos of himself and Soleimani in Zurich before boarding a plane back to Iran.
Going home pic.twitter.com/HZHPDc20aj
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) December 7, 2019
The U.S. had found Soleimani guilty of conspiring and attempting to export biological information in reference to human growth hormone, but suddenly dropped the charges against him this week without explaining why.