News Topic

Academic Freedom, Advocacy


Middle East

The Iranian judiciary recently announced that Xiyue Wang, a doctoral candidate in history at Princeton University, had been sentenced to ten years in prison for “espionage.” Princeton has stated that his family and the university are distressed at his continued unjust imprisonment and are hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran. The AHA has been asked to post this petition generated by a group of historians to provide an opportunity for scholars to show their support for Mr. Wang’s release, and we are pleased to be able to do so.

Mr. Wang was detained on August 7, 2016, while conducting research on his dissertation. The AHA has been in communication with our colleagues at Princeton regarding this matter. There has been consensus until now that Mr. Wang’s case would not benefit from publicity on our part. This is not the first time when the AHA has remained silent because we have been advised that our intervention could be counterproductive. While different actions are deemed appropriate in different cases, the AHA remains strongly committed to the safety of scholars engaged in historical research.

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our support for the safe recovery of Xiyue Wang, a Ph.D. student from Princeton University who has been detained in Iran since August 7, 2016. As members of the academic research community, we are profoundly concerned about his well-being and urge Iran to release him.

Wang is an exceptionally hard-working and gifted scholar of history who was in Iran conducting archival research on the Qajar dynasty during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visiting archives and libraries to examine historical documents and to copy them for further study is an essential part of and a common practice in historians’ training, and is expected of graduate students who hope to receive a doctorate in history. Historians all around the world are engaged in similar archival research in the pursuit of historical knowledge.

Scholarly exchange is a mainstay of intellectual freedom and a benefit to all of humanity, including the people of Iran and the United States. Widespread expressions of grief for the passing of the talented Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani in recent days have reminded us all that scholars are valued all over the world. Wang’s imprisonment may discourage scholarly exchange everywhere and sets an unfortunate example. Scholars should never be imprisoned for peacefully conducting their studies within the rule of law.

Wang’s wife and young son in New Jersey await his safe return. As members of the academic research community, we encourage the Iranian authorities to set aside political differences and free Wang so that he can return home to his family and his studies.

Organized by
Dr. Malin Pinsky, Rutgers University
Dr. Eleanor Hubbard, Princeton University

As of July 31, 2017 1400 GMT:
1,408 academic researchers from 37 countries, including 621 professors [see PDF for names]