American student released by Iran calls on nations to release political hostages


Source : Up News Info

WASHINGTON – An American graduate student at Princeton University who had been incarcerated for three and a half years in Iran on Monday called on all nations to release their political prisoners.

The student, Xiyue Wang, was released by Iran on December 7 in an exchange of prisoners in Switzerland. In return, the United States handed over Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist. The exchange took place after weeks of negotiations involving diplomats in the United States and Iran, who have no formal relations, and Switzerland, which regularly acts as an interlocutor between the other two powers.

In a statement, the first since that day, Mr. Wang and his wife, Hua Qu, a Chinese citizen, thanked the governments, individuals and organizations that helped in the release. The two also published photographs showing Mr. Wang smiling with his 6-year-old son, Shaofan.

“Our family is fine and we are delighted and full of deep gratitude for all the support we have received,” they said. “That said, our joy is attenuated as our thoughts turn to all those who are still unjustly imprisoned and their loved ones, who remain without them.”

They added that “the liberation of Xiyue is a victory of humanity and diplomacy between nations and political differences.”

“We urge world leaders to unite and find compassion and common ground to free all political hostages as soon as possible,” they said. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

US officials have criticized the authoritarian government of Iran for its practice of taking hostages. I ran maintains at least four Americans considered hostage by Washington officials and human rights defenders: Morad Tahbaz, an environmental activist; Siamak Namazi, business consultant, and his father, Baquer Namazi, former Unicef ​​diplomat; and Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent and C.I.A. contractor. Levinson disappeared in Iran more than 12 years ago, and Iran said last month, to the surprise of many, that he had an “ongoing case.”

Iran has accused the prisoners of several crimes, although the defenders of the detainees say they are innocent.

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after Iranian students, inspired by a successful revolution led by Muslim clerics, took diplomats and civilians hostage in 1979 at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The hostages were held for 444 days.

Wang, 38, was arrested in August 2016 in Iran while researching files there as a fourth-year PhD student in Princeton. He was convicted of espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. US officials said Wang was not a spy.

His wife said earlier that he was allowed to speak regularly with Mr. Wang on the phone while in Evin prison, which showed that the Iranian authorities did not consider him a security risk.

After the United Nations General Assembly met at the end of September, the Iranians raised the idea of ​​changing Mr. Wang to Mr. Soleimani, senior US officials said.

Mr. Soleimani was arrested at a Chicago airport last year and convicted of violating US economic sanctions against Iran. He was being held in a prison in Atlanta, and US officials said they expected him to be released next month under a plea agreement. It is not clear if Iranian officials knew of Mr. Soleimani’s potentially imminent release.

Brian H. Hook, the special representative of the State Department for Iran, flew to Zurich with Mr. Soleimani. There, Mr. Hook met with Iranian and Swiss officials, and the parties carried out the exchange of prisoners. Mr. Wang hugged Mr. Hook.

Ms. Hua, who lives in a housing for graduate students in Princeton with her son, did not receive official news of the release until the last minute.

Only two days earlier, on December 5, she said in an interview with The New York Times that her greatest wish was to have her husband at home with the family during the holidays. However, she described being dejected and said she had no indication that the negotiations were progressing.

On December 11, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo He announced new sanctions against Iran’s largest shipping company and a major airline, but also said he hoped Mr. Wang’s release paves the way for a diplomatic dialogue on the release of the other US prisoners.

“I hope that the exchange that took place leads to a broader discussion on consular affairs,” he said. “We still have Americans detained in Iran, too many for sure.”