Candlelight vigil honors Princeton graduate student imprisoned in Iran

 Zhan Zhang, a friend of Xiyue Wang, speaks during a vigil calling for his release (Jeanette Beebe for WHYY)

Zhan Zhang, a friend of Xiyue Wang, speaks during a vigil calling for his release (Jeanette Beebe for WHYY)

On Friday night, friends, family, and colleagues of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang lit candles and called on the government of Iran to release him.

The cavernous courtyard on the Princeton University campus was filled with reflection and silence.

Wang was sentenced to ten years in prison by authorities in Tehran for espionage. In July, he lost his appeal.

While on a research trip for his Princeton dissertation, he was arrested and convicted of what the State Department has called “fabricated national-security related charges.”

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His wife, Hua Qu, was the first to speak.

“During the ups and downs of the past year, my hopes for Xi’s release have been shattered time and time again,” she said. “My husband’s health is deteriorating fast. I’m very worried about him.” She spoke openly about how the ordeal has taken a toll on her family, especially her four-year-old son.

“It has been a devastating year,” she said. “Our son used to point at helicopters flying above Princeton, and claim that Dad was returning home in them. But now, he says that will come when he’s grown up.”

Wang is a naturalized American citizen who was born in Beijing, China. According to a statement provided by Princeton University, Wang’s first 18 days were spent in solitary confinement, and he has been detained for more than a year in Evin Prison in Tehran. In April, he was convicted of two counts of espionage.

In a July 21 statement, the White House warned Iran of “new and serious consequences” unless all “unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned.” President Trump called out Xiyue Wang by name. Princeton University’s statement notes that neither the University nor his family has seen the trial records, the indictment, or the verdict.

“Will his country stand up for him the same way he stood up for American values? I hope the answer is a resounding yes,” Qu said at the vigil.” But scholars alone cannot secure his release. We desperately need the support of anyone who still believes that learning and cultural exchange still has a place in this world.”

At the vigil, Wang’s colleagues and friends remembered him as a deeply curious scholar, a good cook, a selfless father, and a generous friend. They are advocating for his release with a group on Facebook: “Free Xiyue Wang.”

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