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Iran Identifies Jailed American; U.S. Demands Release

Iran has identified the U.S. national sentenced to 10 years for spying as Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old researcher at Princeton University.

Mizanonline, the official news agency of Iran's judiciary,said on July 16 that Wang, who was born in China, was arrested on August 8, 2016, while trying to leave Iran.

The report said the man was part of "an infiltration project" to collect "highly confidential articles" for U.S. and British organizations, including Princeton, the U.S. State Department, Harvard University, and the British Institute for Persian Studies.

The State Department issued a statement confirming it was "aware of reports regarding Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen detained in Iran."

"We continue to use all the means at our disposal to advocate for U.S. citizens who need our assistance overseas, especially for the release of any unjustly detained U.S. citizens held overseas,” the State Department said.

"We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families," it added.

The report by Mizanonline said Wang “was able to digitally archive 4,500 pages of the country's documents, while under covert surveillance."

It said the documents were taken from "research and cultural archives" and "the libraries of some state organizations."

As “proof,” Mizanonline published a note in an annual report by the British Institute of Persian Studies in which Wang thanked a librarian for helping him make contact with academics in Iran.

Princeton, however, said that Wang was conducting scholarly research.

“Xiyue Wang is a fourth-year doctoral candidate…in the Department of History at Princeton University," the prestigious university in that state of New Jersey said in a statement e-mailed to Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

"His field is late 19th- and early 20th-century Eurasian history. He was in Iran last summer solely for the purpose of doing scholarly research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his PhD dissertation.

“We were very distressed to learn that charges were brought against him in connection with his scholarly work, and to learn of the subsequent conviction and sentence. We cannot comment more at the present time, except to say that the university continues to do everything it can to be supportive of Mr. Wang and his family.”

Iran earlier said the man was a dual citizen of the United States and an unnamed country other than Iran. It was not immediately confirmed if Wang is also a citizen of China.

Several Iranian dual nationals from the United States and other Western countries have been detained in Iran over the past year and are being kept behind bars on charges, including espionage and collaborating with hostile governments.

In January, Tehran's chief prosecutor said as many as 70 "spies" were serving sentences in Tehran prisons.

In October, U.S.-Iranian business consultant Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF official, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for "espionage and collaboration with the American government.”

Tensions between the United States and Iran have heightened since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that eased sanctions against Tehran in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.

Last month, the U.S. Senate supported further sanctions against Iran for its "continued support of terrorism." The bill must still be passed by the House.

Iran threatened to respond with "reciprocal and adequate measures."

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
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