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American Student Xiyue Wang Freed In U.S.-Iran Prisoner Swap


Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student being held at an Iranian prison, wears a button bearing a picture of her husband as she speaks at a news conference to mark the third anniversary of his imprisonment, Aug. 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student being held at an Iranian prison, wears a button bearing a picture of her husband as she speaks at a news conference to mark the third anniversary of his imprisonment, Aug. 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Patrick Semansky, AP

Updated at 8:08 a.m. ET

Iran freed an American held prisoner for the past three years, the White House said Saturday, while Iran said the U.S. was freeing an Iranian scientist held in America in return.

“After more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States,” the White House said in a statement Saturday morning. “A Princeton University graduate student, Mr. Wang had been held under the pretense of espionage since August 2016.”

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter: “Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly.”

A senior U.S. official confirmed the release of Massoud Soleimani for Xiyue Wang.

U.S. authorities arrested Soleimani over trade sanction violations, according to The Associated Press. “He and his lawyers maintain his innocence, saying he seized on a former student’s plans to travel from the U.S. to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research for a fraction of the price he’d pay at home.”

The White House and Zarif both thanked the Swiss government for helping in the negotiations.

Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for spying for American and British intelligence agencies. Princeton said Wang was arrested while doing research on “the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation.”

“Everything he did is normal — absolutely everything he did is normal, standard practice for scholars in this region and elsewhere,” Stephen Kotkin, Wang’s adviser at Princeton, told NPR in 2017. Princeton said it was working behind the scenes to free Wang.

In September 2018, a United Nations committee said Iran had “no legal basis” for Wang’s arrest and detention.

This story will be updated.

NPR’s Steve Inskeep contributed reporting.

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