American scholar jailed in Iran is innocent, professor says

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 4:08 AM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 4:08 AM

A Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran for allegedly "infiltrating" the country and sending confidential material abroad is innocent of all charges against him, his professor said Monday.

Xiyue Wang's arrest, which happened nearly a year ago, only came to light Sunday when Iran's judiciary announced his sentence and the detention of President Hassan Rouhani's brother in an unrelated case.

Princeton said that it is "very distressed" by the charges leveled against Wang while he was carrying out scholarly research in the Islamic Republic.

It has been working with Wang's family, the U.S. government, lawyers and others to secure his release, it said, adding that it hopes he will be released on appeal.

"Xiyue Wang is a remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student," Princeton University professor Stephen Kotkin, who has served as Wang's doctoral adviser, told The Associated Press. "He is innocent of all the charges."

An article posted on Mizan Online, a website affiliated with Iran's judiciary, said 37-year-old Wang was born in Beijing and is a dual national of the United States and China.

He has already filed an appeal to his sentence, according to the website.

Wang was arrested on Aug. 8, 2016 and is accused of passing confidential information about Iran to the U.S. State Department, Princeton's Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, the Harvard Kennedy School and the British Institute of Persian Studies, Mizan Online said.

It alleged he scanned some 4,500 pages of digital documents, paid thousands of dollars to access archives he needed and sought access to confidential areas of Tehran libraries.

He was arrested while conducting research on the Qajar dynasty that once ruled Iran for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history, according to Princeton.

He was expecting to continue his research in Russia and needed to get as much work done in Iran as he could before taking up a fellowship there, Kotkin said.

That included scanning large volumes of documents that he could access later — something Kotkin described as "normal, standard scholarly practice." The documents he accessed were roughly 100 years old, the professor said.

"We saw nothing out of the ordinary on anything that he undertook or did," Kotkin said. "He's a graduate student in good standing."

A photo on Princeton's history department website shows Wang posing under a plaque at the entrance of China's official Xinhua News Agency bureau in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A short bio on the Princeton in Asia website said Wang had been a fellow in Hong Kong in 2008-2009, had completed a bachelor's degree in South Asian studies at the University of Washington and did Russian and Eurasian studies at Harvard.

In addition to Mandarin and English, Wang was able to communicate in Persian, Turkish and Pashto, and had worked as a Pashto translator in Afghanistan, Kotkin said. It was his first trip to Iran.

"He is unbelievably committed to the life of the mind," Kotkin said. "You have to hand it to this guy, this kind of ambition."

The U.S. State Department has not provided details on the case but called on Tehran to immediately release "all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran." The U.S. does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with Tehran and warns its citizens traveling there that they risk arrest or being barred from leaving.

"The Iranian regime continues to detain U.S. citizens and other foreigners on fabricated national-security related changes," it said.

Other Americans who remain in Iranian custody include Iranian-American art gallery manager Karan Vafadari, who was detained along with his Iranian wife last year. They have yet to be convicted.

Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, are each serving 10-year sentences for "cooperating with the hostile American government."

Another Iranian-American, Robin Shahini, was released on bail last year after staging a weeks-long hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for "collaboration with a hostile government." He is believed to still be in Iran.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains unaccounted for.

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocates for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years behind bars last year after being accused of espionage-related charges.

Zakka has been on a hunger strike for three weeks to protest his confinement and his supporters believe he was taken to the hospital Sunday for treatment, said Jason Poblete, a Washington-based lawyer representing him.

Poblete said authorities have repeatedly tried to get Zakka to sign documents in Persian said to be for his medical care, but he has refused, fearing they could be a false confession.

Wang's sentence was announced the same day authorities said they had detained President Rouhani's brother, Hossein Fereidoun, on allegations of financial misconduct.

Fereidoun is a close confidante of the moderate president, a cleric who changed his surname to Rouhani, meaning "spiritual," after joining the seminary decades ago.

Fereidoun was part of the Iran's negotiating team during the final phases of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He has long been a target of hard-liners, who have accused him of misdeeds, including money laundering and misappropriation of government funds.

He appeared briefly in court on Monday but had to be taken away by ambulance for an undisclosed heath concern. He is known to suffer from lung problems dating from the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s.

The Tasnim news agency reported later Monday that Fereidoun was released on $15 million bail.

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Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran and Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck

Hopping wallaby stops traffic on Australian highway

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 10:34 AM

WATCH: Police Chase Hopping Suspect

A wallaby hopping down a highway is not something you see everyday, but that’s exactly what happened Tuesday in Sydney, Australia.

The marsupial found its way onto the road, making drivers wonder what they were seeing as they crossed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, ABC News in Australia reported.

Some described the animal as a kangaroo, including traffic controllers with the Transport Management Center.

>> Read more trending news 

“Traffic controllers had quite a surprise early this morning when we saw a kangaroo making its way down lane No. 8 of Sydney Harbour Bridge, coming from the north side,” Dave Wright told ABC News.

“It basically continued to hop, making its way from lane 8 all the way over to lane 1 ... down the Cahill Expressway and down to Macquarie Street,” Wright said.

Officers were able to corner the animal which turned out to be a male adult swamp wallaby. It was taken to a vet who checked it out. It had a few scratches on its face and hind legs, but had no major injuries, 9 News reported.

Some believe the wallaby may have come from a nearby golf course, but groundskeepers and golfers said they’ve never seen a wallaby or kangaroo on the course before, 9 News reported.

Wallabies at Cockle Creek at the overnight camp during The Cadbury Schweppes Mark Webber Challenge November 13, 2003 in Tasmania, Australia.

Reporter ‘attacked’ by lemurs during report

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 8:33 AM

WATCH: Reporter "Attacked" By Lemurs During Report

A reporter apparently never heard the saying about not working with animals or children, but thank goodness he didn’t, because we wouldn’t have the Friday laughs some may need.

>> Read more trending news 

Alexander Dunlop was supposed to do a quick standup about England’s Banham Zoo’s annual counting of the park’s animals. 

But it didn’t go as planned.

A group of lemurs, called a conspiracy, yes really, a conspiracy of lemurs, had a plan to attack Dunlop, ABC News reported.

Brave lemur fans can have a “lemur encounter” and get up close and personal with the wild animals.

FILE PHOTO: A lemur jumps from a tree in Antananarivo, Madagascar. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)(David Rogers/Getty Images)

Princess Charlotte is learning second language at age of 2

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 7:35 AM

Fun Facts about Princess Charlotte

Experts say the best time to learn a second language is when you’re young, and apparently Prince William and Duchess Katherine are following suit, allowing Princess Charlotte to start learning Spanish.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s a member of the royal family and her nanny has been working with the little princess.

>> Read more trending news 

Metro reported that Princess Charlotte has been learning Spanish phrases from nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. 

And the 2-year-old isn’t alone in expanding her vocabulary. Prince George is said to be able to count to 10 in Spanish, Metro reported

Princess Charlotte recently started full-time nursery school at Willcocks Nursery School in London, the Associated Press reported.

In this handout picture provided by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Britain's Princess Charlotte smiles as she prepares for her first day of nursery at the Willcocks Nursery School, in London, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. (Duchess of Cambridge via AP)(The Duchess of Cambridge/AP)

She turns 3 in May and is fourth in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George, the AP reported

Prince George started primary school in September at Thomas’s Battersea, Metro reported.

Experts at Cornell have studied the learning of languages and have found that the earlier children learn a second language, the more likely they will be able to speak like a native speaker.

Related

Must see: Dog interrupts tied soccer match

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 7:06 AM

A dog runs onto the pitch during the Europa League group L soccer match between Vardar and Rosenborg, at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Boris Grdanoski/AP
A dog runs onto the pitch during the Europa League group L soccer match between Vardar and Rosenborg, at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)(Boris Grdanoski/AP)

It’s not every day that a tied soccer game gets interrupted by a fan running on the pitch, especially when that fan is a four-footed furry one.

A husky appeared on the field during a match between teams from Macedonia and Norway, Business Insider reported.

>> Read more trending news

The game was tied 1-1 at the 73rd minute mark when the dog dropped in front of the Macedonian team’s goalkeeper to have its belly rubbed.

Vardar's goalkeeper Filip Gacevski, left, tries to catch a dog that entered the pitch during the Europa League group L soccer match between Vardar and Rosenborg, at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)(Boris Grdanoski/AP)

The entire event was caught on video.

Eventually, security was able to herd the dog to the tunnel so the game could continue and the match ended in a 1-1 tie.

Vardar's goalkeeper Filip Gacevski, left, tries to catch a dog that entered the pitch during the Europa League group L soccer match between Vardar and Rosenborg, at Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, Thursday Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)(Boris Grdanoski/AP)