WASHINGTON -- The wife of a Princeton University graduate student imprisoned in Iran said Thursday that her husband is not a spy as she appealed for international cooperation to secure his release.
"I plead for the gate of mercy to be opened for him, and I hope he can come back to us as soon as possible," Hua Qu said in a speech marking the third anniversary of her husband's detention.
Hua also said there have been no recent productive conversations between the United States and the Iranian government about Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American history researcher who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of "infiltrating" Iran and sending confidential material abroad.
"My husband and our family have become innocent victims in an apparently ever-intensifying quarrel between world powers," Hua said. "My husband is an academic researcher. He's a father, a husband. He is not a political figure, and he definitely is not a spy."
Wang, who specializes in late 19th century and early 20th century Eurasian history, was detained in August 2016 while conducting research in connection with his doctoral dissertation.
Efforts to free him and other Americans held in Iran have been complicated by increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Any productive dialogue that might once have occurred has stalled following the U.S. withdrawal last year from the 2015 nuclear agreement between the Iranian government and world powers.
While Iran's top diplomat has floated the idea of a prisoner swap, the U.S. government has simply called for the immediate release of all "innocent" Americans.
"This case will not be automatically resolved," Hua said. "They definitely need to come to the negotiating table and to speak to each other, to engage in a dialogue.
Hua praised the efforts of Robert O'Brien, the State Department's special envoy for hostage affairs. But she said her husband should get the same level of attention from the government as that given to American rapper A$AP Rocky, who was freed from a Swedish jail last week pending a verdict in an assault case. The Trump administration dispatched O'Brien to monitor proceedings in that case.
"I believe the ordeal of my husband and other unjust detention cases deserve the same level of attention," Hua said.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus defended O'Brien's efforts on behalf of Americans detained abroad, saying he was working diligently behind the scenes. She said it was appropriate for O'Brien to go to Sweden for A$AP Rocky because the president asked him to go.
"Robert is constantly traveling and negotiating and working with these countries," Ortagus said. "This is something that is very personal to him to get our American hostages back. It is something incredibly personal to the secretary and of course to the president."
Hua said her husband's imprisonment in Iran has affected the entire family. Their son, who was 3 years old when his father was taken into custody, is struggling with his absence. When they recently moved to a new apartment, she said, the boy asked whether his father would be able to find them once he came out.
Hua said Wang is confined with about 25 cellmates, finding comfort reading the same type of academic texts he studied before his arrest. The books allow him to tune out the noises and smells of the jail, and allow him to temporarily envision himself back in his beloved Princeton library.
Hua said the last time she spoke with her husband was on Wednesday. He told her that he'd like to take her on a "nice vacation to heal" and recover from the ordeal of his confinement. "And I really look forward to the day," she said. "I haven't seen him for way too long."
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