Mansfield University Honors Students Advocate for Release of American in Iran

MANSFIELD, PA — Eleven honors students are taking part in a unique, hands-on course offered at Mansfield University. The central focus of the course, “Human Rights Advocacy: Theory & Praxis”, is a case study involving a living person who is being unjustly persecuted for his pursuit of academic knowledge. Students are working in collaboration with Scholars at Risk, an organization based at New York University, “whose mission is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom.” The students are organizing and engaging in advocacy efforts calling for the immediate release of Xiyue Wang, an American citizen and graduate student, from an Iranian jail.

Human Rights Advocacy: Theory & Praxis Honors Class

Mr. Wang is an American citizen and graduate student in the history department at Princeton University, respected among his peers for the quality of his work and beloved by friends and family. In 2016, he was in Iran on a visa obtained through the Pakistani embassy, studying Farsi and conducting research on the Persian Qajar Dynasty (which lasted from 1788 to 1925) for his dissertation. He examined historical documents in various Iranian archives with the knowledge and permission of the government, and for a while, it seemed that his work was an extension of the robust academic exchange that has existed between the United States and Iran for many years now, despite the otherwise hostile relationship between the two countries.

Xiyue’s life took a dramatic turn, however, on August 7, 2016. He was arrested, charged with espionage and plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic, and sent to Evin Prison in Tehran, notorious for its human rights abuses. Wang is not a spy, and his work presents no particular threat to the current government of Iran. The records he accessed were publicly available and related to a Persian dynasty that ended almost a century ago. Nevertheless, he was convicted in April 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison after a trial with no semblance of fairness or justice.

Since then, Wang has been mistreated by the authorities, and there are reports that he is not in good health. His wife, Qu Hua, is in regular contact with him by telephone, but she and their six-year-old son worry every day for his well-being and his life. The class had the opportunity to speak with her recently, and she expressed the pain and stress that have characterized her life these past three years.

Xiyue Wang has suffered terribly at the hands of a brutal regime in Iran, and his imprisonment is symbolic of increasing attacks on academic freedom, due process, and American citizens around the globe. With the understanding that this injustice of his arrest needs to be undone, the students are conducting a campus and community campaign to raise awareness of Wang’s case and contribute to efforts to free him.

On March 7th and 8th, one member of the class, Sam Finch, attended Scholars at Risk’s Student Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. Students from colleges around the country and Canada met to hear guest speakers, including former congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), an advocate on Capitol Hill for their respective cases. Sam also met with a member of Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) staff and communicated the importance of bringing Xiyue Wang back home.

Beginning Monday, March 25th, the class will hold a week of action at MU, with stations set up at various locations and times around campus to spread the word about Xiyue Wang’s case and circulate a petition calling for his release. They will also be distributing #FreeXiyueWang bracelets as a message of solidarity – they’re molded in blue, his son’s favorite color.

Members of the class include Katelyn Blake, Kristen Covington, Madison Curtis, Samuel Finch, Brayden Gabel, Sara Miller, Caitlin Moran, Anna Nelson, Maranna Nitcznski, Alyssa Schnoke, and Catherine Troutman.

You can express your support by following the class on Twitter @MansfieldSAR, and by contacting your government representatives and ask them to join the cause.