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


            This 2009 handout photo released by a friend of Xiyue Wang shows Xiyue Wang at his apartment in Hong Kong, China. Princeton University professor Stephen Kotkin, who advised Wang, a Chinese-American researcher sentenced to prison in Iran, defended his former student as innocent of all charges against him. Kotkin told The Associated Press by email that Xiyue Wang is a
This 2009 handout photo released by a friend of Xiyue Wang shows Xiyue Wang at his apartment in Hong Kong, China. Princeton University professor Stephen Kotkin, who advised Wang, a Chinese-American researcher sentenced to prison in Iran, defended his former student as innocent of all charges against him. Kotkin told The Associated Press by email that Xiyue Wang is a "remarkable, linguistically gifted graduate student" who studied governance in 19th and early 20th century Muslim regions. (Friend of Xiyue Wang via AP)

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

Chinese censors block Winnie the Pooh

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 3:50 PM



MJ Kim/Getty Images
(MJ Kim/Getty Images)

The Chinese government is blocking social media posts including the image of A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh, apparently due to constant comparisons between the cartoon bear and Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to multiple reports.

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The Guardian reported that references to “Little Bear Winnie,” Winnie the Pooh’s Chinese name, were bringing up errors on Monday for some social media users in China.

Authorities didn’t explain the decision to block to bear, according to The Guardian. However, BBC News reported that bloggers’ comparison of Pooh’s image to that of the country’s president prompted the clampdown.

“It is not only that China's censors will not tolerate ridicule of the country's leader, they do not want this beloved children's character becoming a kind of online euphemism for the Communist Party's general secretary,” according to the news site’s China blog. “In other countries such comparisons might be thought of as harmless enough and some might even think that having Winnie as your mascot could even be quite endearing: not in China.”

The New York Times reported that government censors have been battling with Pooh bear since at least 2013, when an image of Xi and then-President Barack Obama drew comparisons to Winne the Pooh and Tigger. Since then, multiple social media users have compared Pooh to Xi.

World Emoji Day: Fun symbols celebrated with contests, tributes

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 6:39 AM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 7:24 AM

Emojis (photo illustration).
Dimitri Otis/Getty Images
Emojis (photo illustration).(Dimitri Otis/Getty Images)

Emoji fans, today's your day.

Tourist attractions, businesses and social-media users around the globe Monday are celebrating the fourth annual World Emoji Day, a tribute to everyone's favorite fun symbols.

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Is an emoji worth 1,000 words? Maybe not, but the smiley faces and other colorful icons have become a popular form of self-expression.

Officially, there are currently 2,666 emojis, according to the BBC.

>> Click here or scroll down for more

Popular fitness model killed in freak whipped cream accident

Published: Thursday, June 22, 2017 @ 9:00 AM

Fitness Model Killed in Freak Whipped Cream Accident

A popular French fitness model was killed in a freak accident involving a whipped cream dispenser, her family says.

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Fox News reports that Rebecca Burger, who has more than 150,000 followers on Instagram, was killed when a defective whipped cream dispenser exploded and hit her in the chest.

She was 33 years old.

La pratique du culturisme de manière sérieuse et passionnée implique un mode de vie sain mais aussi un mode de vie axé sur le contrôle. Le contrôle de l'alimentation, de l'entrainement, du repos, de la vie en générale. Les journées sont rythmées par le travail, les entrainements, les repas, l'organisation et tout ce qui s'en suit. Pour ma part je me lève tous les jours à 5h30-6h00 et me couche le plus souvent à 21h. Des sorties en semaine ? Non Des party le weekend ? Encore moins, cela impliquerait alors de se coucher aux aurores pour finalement se lever trop tard et pour moi, se serait une journée de gâchée. Attention, je ne jette pas la pierre à ce qu'ils le font mais cela ne rentre juste pas mes principes et encore moins dans mon mode de vie. Tout ce que je fais dans mes journées, les heures de travail, d'entrainement, de réalisation de projets sont dépensées de façon à ce qu'au final, cela m'apporte quelque chose de concret et m'aide à atteindre quotidiennement mes objectifs. Peut-être que ce rythme de vie peut choquer ou provoquer l'incompréhension de pas mal de gens, mais c'est ma vie, celle dans laquelle je me sens vivante, heureuse et épanouie.

A post shared by Rebecca Burger (@rebeccablikes) on

Burger did receive medical attention but died of cardiac arrest, according to reports.

Now her family is warning others not to buy the defective dispensers, claiming thousands of faulty devices are still being sold, according to Fox News.

Read more here.

C'est avec une grande tristesse que nous annonçons le décès de Rebecca le dimanche 18 juin 2017 suite à un accident...

Posted by Rebecca Burger on Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dramatic video shows aid worker, Texas Aggie rescuing child from ISIS gunfire

Published: Thursday, June 22, 2017 @ 11:47 AM

In this May 5, 2017 file photo, destroyed buildings from fighting between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group are seen in western Mosul. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen, File)
Bram Janssen/AP
In this May 5, 2017 file photo, destroyed buildings from fighting between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group are seen in western Mosul. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen, File)(Bram Janssen/AP)

Among the many things that are required of a freshman in Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets — from buzzed hair, to shined shoes to elaborate rituals for nearly every situation — is to memorize a simple Bible verse, John 15:13.

“Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

These are not hollow words in Aggieland. It happened famously in Corregidor; tragically in Fallujah; in the trenches of World War I and mountains of Afghanistan.

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Texas A&M graduate David Eubank knew this when he saw a girl of about 5 amid the remains of her family, slain in the ruins of the streets of Mosul, Iraq.

The girl was alive. There was a wall between her and deadly ISIS snipers.

For one little Iraqi girl, Eubank was prepared to stretch the definition of greater love. 

“I thought, ‘If I die doing this, my wife and kids would understand,’” he later told the Los Angeles Times.

His dramatic rescue was caught on video and can be seen on Youtube. (Warning: The video contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.)

Eubank’s heroism is hardly out of character. He was a Texas toddler when he knew he wanted to be a soldier and a third-generation Aggie. After completing A&M’s Corps of Cadets, the class of ‘83 graduate served 10 years in the U.S. Army. He was a Ranger and, ultimately, a Special Forces commander.

If that seems like enough service for most, Eubank was just getting started. The son of missionaries, in 1997, he founded the Free Burma Rangers to help those displaced by the civil war in Burma. He moved his wife and kids across the world to help provide food, medical care and Christian outreach to those in need.

Nearly 20 years later, the Free Burma Rangers shifted their focus to Iraq, Syria and the victims of Islamic State terrorists.

That brings us back to Mosul, where this month’s dramatic rescue happened.

Nabih Bulos, reporting for the Los Angeles Times, described how it unfolded:

As clouds from the smoke canisters swirl about, he prepares to dash from behind the tank to save the girl. He’s wearing a helmet and a bullet-proof vest over a black T-shirt.

He runs out as his colleagues, armed with machine guns, give covering fire. He scoops up the girl with his right arm, stumbling as he runs back. He’s gone and back in 12 seconds. The girl’s hair is in pigtails, secured with what appear to be pink ribbons.

It wasn’t quite a Hollywood moment. Another toddler seen alive disappeared in the chaos. A wounded man didn’t make it. As for Eubank? He’s not playing the part of action hero. Instead, he works to keep the humility of a Christian aid worker.

“I believe God sent me here, and I don’t think about security,” he told the Times. “... but I always ask myself if I’m doing it out of pride.”

Read the Los Angeles Times interview with Eubank about his rescue and work in Iraq.

Read a Texas Aggie magazine story from 2012 on the Free Burma Rangers.