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U.S. Hostage Held by Iran Passes 1,000-Day Mark in Captivity

An American hostage in Iran passed the mark of 1,000 days in captivity this month, as his wife pleaded for help from the international community to free Xiyue Wang.

Iran arrested the Princeton University doctoral student in August 2016 for scanning historical documents related to his Ph.D. research and sentenced him to 10 years. The research trip, centered around 19th and early 20th century Persian history, was originally approved by the Iranian government. The University of Washington graduate has a 6-year-old son, Shao, with his wife, Qu Hua, who has been laboring intensively for Xiyue’s release.

Qu has reported that her husband’s physical and mental health are rapidly deteriorating under the strain of his harsh prison conditions. The 38-year-old has developed arthritis in both of his knees, among other maladies.

“He has been in jail for more than twice the time the American diplomats were held hostage from 1979 to 1981 — and he could be kept there until 2026,” Qu wrote Friday in the Washington Post.

“Xiyue is a diligent and passionate scholar. Even in prison, books — when he can get hold of them — are one of his few comforts amid the harsh conditions. Sitting in the middle level of a three-tiered bunk bed in a small room, he cannot even straighten his back. But with a book in his hands, he is able to put out of his mind the noises and smells from his 25 cellmates crammed underground and imagine that he is back home in Princeton’s Firestone Library,” she added.

“…My husband and our family are innocent victims in this quarrel between powers. He is an academic researcher and a father, not a political figure or spy. It is fundamentally unjust that he continues to be treated as a hostage or bargaining chip in a geopolitical dispute.”

Qu implored the Iranian, U.S. and Chinese governments “and other members of the international community to come together and find a way to free this innocent man and bring him home to his family without delay.”

“He has already been unfairly kept from his family for far too long,” she added.

Iran’s hostage-taking includes the longest-held hostage in U.S. history: Bob Levinson, who served five years with the DEA and 25 at the FBI before his retirement. March 9 marked 12 years since his disappearance on Iran’s Kish Island; a United Nations report in 2016 held Iran responsible for his captivity.

Their slate of American hostages also includes Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American and permanent U.S. resident who was invited by the Iranian government to speak at a conference on women’s entrepreneurship in September 2015 — a trip partly funded by the State Department — and was seized as he tried to fly home to D.C.

Siamak Namazi, a U.S. citizen and businessman, was seized in October 2015 on a visit to Tehran. His father, Baquer Namazi, also a U.S. citizen, was trying to secure his son’s release when he was seized in Tehran in February 2016. The pair were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “spying and cooperating with the U.S. government against Iran.” Baquer, 82, has been hospitalized eight times, has lost more than 20 pounds and has been diagnosed with epilepsy and 70 percent blockage of the arteries leading to his brain.

Iran also seized art gallery owner Karan Vafadari in July 2016 by first detaining his Iranian wife at the airport and directing her to call and summon him there. They lobbed various vice charges at the Zoroastrian before he was sentenced to 27 years and 124 lashes for “collusion in plots against national security” and other charges. He said in a letter a year ago that the IRGC tried to force his wife “to say I was a member of the Mossad and the CIA… so they could hang me.”

In January 2018, Morad Tahbaz, a Connecticut conservationist, was arrested along with other current and former staffers of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. A Canadian among the arrested, Kavous Seyed-Emam, died in custody — 17 days into his interrogation and detention; Iran claims he committed suicide, which his family disputes. Iran claims the trap cameras used to film wildlife were spying on the country’s missile program.

And Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran detained in July, was sentenced in March to a decade behind bars. “White was beaten, has no money to hire a lawyer, and still does not know if any charges are filed against him. White is a former cancer patient and his health is worsening,” House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism Chairman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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