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Iran Detains President's Brother, Sentences U.S. Student On Espionage Charges

Iran has sentenced a Chinese-American Princeton University graduate student to 10 years imprisonment on espionage charges, an Iran judiciary spokesman says.

"An American dual nationality agent, having the US nationality and one more (nationality) from another European country, who entered Iran through a special kind of influence, was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence," spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said, according to state media outlet IRNA, the Islamic Republic News Agency.

"The spy was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the preliminary court; if the ruling is definite, I will explain in detail his gestures and that he was directly supported by the US," Ejei added.

The Iranian judiciary's news site, Mizan, later identified the American as Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old Beijing-born history student at Princeton University.

Princeton University confirmed the identity of its student in an email to NPR.

Wang is fourth-year doctoral candidate in the history department, who has been in Iran for research on the history of the late Qajar dynasty for his Ph.D. dissertation.

While Sunday's announcement of from Iran was the first official confirmation of Wang's detainment and prosecution, he was arrested months ago, a Princeton official says.

"He was arrested in Iran last summer," says Daniel Day, the assistant vice president of the university's communications office. "Since his arrest, the university has worked with Mr. Wang's family, the U.S. government, private counsel and others to facilitate his release."

"His family and the university are distressed at his continued imprisonment and are hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran," Day says.

In a statement to NPR, a U.S. State Department official acknowledged reports of its jailed citizen, but did not comment specifically on its efforts "for privacy reasons."

"We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families," the department official said.

In the same statement delivered on state television Sunday, judiciary spokesman Ejehi said the brother and close aide of President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereidoun, has also been detained for alleged financial crimes, The Associated Press reports.

The news comes less than two months after the moderate president won re-election for his second term against a hard-line challenger Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani's supporters perceive Fereidoun's arrest as a move by Rouhani opponents to undermine him, a few weeks before the president's swearing-in ceremony, reports The Guardian.

Fereidoun is eligible for bail, but has not yet paid it, The Guardian adds.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.