A Chinese-American graduate student sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly "infiltrating" the country and sending confidential material abroad is innocent of all charges against him, his advising professor at Princeton University told the Associated Press on Monday.
Xiyue Wang's arrest, which authorities said happened nearly a year ago, only came to light a day earlier when Iran's judiciary announced his sentence.
Princeton told AP that it is "very distressed" by the charges leveled against Wang while he was carrying out scholarly research in Iran. The university said it has been working with Wang's family, the U.S. government, lawyers and others to secure his release.
Wang was arrested on Aug. 8, 2016 and is accused of passing confidential information about Iran to the U.S. State Department, Princeton's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, the Harvard Kennedy School and the British Institute of Persian Studies, the Judiciary's Mizan Online said, adding that the 37-year-old Beijing-born historian at Princeton University who was "spying under the cover of research".
Xiyue was also active at the university's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, which Mizan said has links to Western intelligence agencies and Israel.
"The American spy arrested in Iran was also at the center and his mission was to collect confidential information and documents," Mizan said adding that he had copied 4,500 documents.
It alleged he recorded some 4,500 pages of digital documents, paid thousands of dollars to access archives he needed and sought access to confidential areas of Tehran libraries.
Princeton University professor Stephen Kotkin, who has served as Wang's doctoral adviser, defended him in an email to The Associated Press.
"Xiyue Wang is a remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student," he wrote. "He is innocent of all the charges."
The documents Wang collected were 100 years old, Kotkin said, adding that Wang "has told me often of his exhilaration at the exquisiteness and depth of Persian civilization."
In its statement, Princeton said Wang was arrested while conducting research on the 1794-1925 Qajar dynasty for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history.
The U.S. State Department has not provided details on the case but called on Tehran to immediately release "all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran." The U.S. does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Tehran and warns its citizens traveling there that they risk arrest or being barred from leaving Iran.
"The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security related changes," it said in a statement to the AP.
Other Americans who remain in Iranian custody include Iranian-American art gallery manager Karan Vafadari, who was detained along with his Iranian wife last year. They have yet to be convicted of a crime.
Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, are each serving 10-year sentences for "cooperating with the hostile American government."
Wang's sentence was announced the same day that authorities said they had detained President Rouhani's brother, Hossein Fereidoun, on allegations of financial misconduct.
Iran's conservative and hardline circles, including the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps have intensified their rhetoric against Rouhani, especially since the incumbent's strong win in the May presidential elections.
Reporting by AP