How Princeton Abandoned a Graduate Student Held Hostage by Iran

Jan. 25 2022

In 2016, Xiyue Wang, an American citizen and a PhD candidate at Princeton University, traveled to Tehran to improve his Persian, and to conduct archival research on the governance of border provinces in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A few months later he was arrested and sent to the Evin prison, where he was held for 40 months, most of which he spent in solitary confinement. He emerged thoroughly disabused of his former faith in the possibility of U.S conciliation with the Islam Republic. He had a similar change in attitude toward his university. Peter Theroux writes:

While Iranian jailers were torturing Wang and hundreds of others at Evin, the [Iranian] government was projecting an image of wounded innocence to the world, the seeker of a peaceful nuclear-energy program and the victim of unfair sanctions. But the beatings and abuse Wang received had a specific objective: to extract a confession of espionage and a propaganda video that would raise his price as a hostage, worthy of exchanging for the release of Iranian assets or prisoners.

Back at Princeton, there would eventually be candlelight vigils and social-media support, but not until the one-year anniversary of his captivity. The university spent that first year avoiding making waves on his behalf. Not that it lacked leverage: its faculty, inside and outside its Iran Studies Center, boasted big names with ties to Tehran, including the former regime official Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a senior nuclear negotiator who served as Iran’s ambassador to Germany during the September 1992 massacre of Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant. (A German court found the Iranian government culpable up to the highest levels; Mousavian called the allegations “a joke” and said that Iran would never violate human rights.)

Princeton advised Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, not to make waves either; it was not until July 2017 that the news of Wang’s captivity broke, and it was the Iranians who broke it—followed a few days later by their demand for the release of Iranian prisoners in the United States. A year after that, Princeton released a statement on the matter that . . . conspicuously didn’t include a demand for Wang’s release.

After his return, Wang discovered that the Iran Studies Center had removed him from its mailing list.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Academia, Iran

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism