DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — 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.