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.