Washington’s Democratic members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump and his administration to prioritize the release of a University of Washington graduate who has been imprisoned in Iran for three years.

Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was studying Persian history when he was arrested in August 2016 and, after a closed trial, sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Washington’s two U.S. senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and seven U.S. representatives, Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck, Pramila Jayapal, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, Kim Schrier and Adam Smith, wrote to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week to plead Wang’s case.

“Mr. Wang’s home country, the United States has the obligation to use every legal and diplomatic tool available to bring him home,” the delegation wrote. “We urge you to immediately resume direct and consistent diplomatic dialogue and take action to bring Mr. Wang home to his wife and six-year-old child.”

Jayapal’s office, which organized the letter, said it did not hear back from Washington’s three Republican members of Congress, as it sought signatories.

“August can be a tough time to get offices to respond in a timely manner,” Bryan Doyle, a Jayapal spokesman, said. “We look forward to collaborating with the full delegation to secure his release.”


Wang was born in Beijing but moved to the United States after high school and is a naturalized American citizen. His wife, Hua Qu, and their 6-year-old son live in New Jersey.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention asked Iran to release Wang last year, finding “multiple violations” of his right to a fair trial and “no legal basis” for his arrest or imprisonment.

Wang was researching historical documents in Iran’s national archives, mostly 19th and early 20th-century newspaper clippings, when he was arrested and sent to Evin Prison in Tehran.

Since then, his health has deteriorated, the letter says, pointing to skin rashes, arthritis and migraines, stemming from his imprisonment.

Peri Farbstein, a State Department spokesperson, said that last week, on the third anniversary of Wang’s arrest, the administration reiterated its call on Iran to release him.

“The U.S. is determined to secure the release of all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees — including Mr. Wang — and will not rest until they are home,” Farbstein wrote.


Wang is one of at least five Americans now missing or imprisoned in Iran, according to The New York Times.

U.S. hostilities with Iran have increased since Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. In June, Trump ordered a military strike on Iran before abruptly calling it off.

“Wang has no professional involvement in international politics,” Teresa Davis, a historian and former colleague of Wang’s at Princeton, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “He is simply a bookish historian who traveled to Iran for research in 2016 and became swept up in escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.”

Wang speaks or reads 10 languages.

His doctoral dissertation, which he was researching in Iran, was looking at how nomadic life in Central Asia changed when modern states were created in the late 19th century. His research plan had been approved by Iranian authorities, who also authorized him to use the national archives.

The UW has hosted at least two rallies over the past two years, urging Trump to work for Wang’s release. A UW doctoral student who was arrested in Egypt last year was freed after about six months in prison.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese man and permanent U.S. resident, who was released from Iranian prison in June, said that he shared a cell with Wang for two years. Zakka said Wang suffered from a skin disease and it took prison authorities months to get him medication.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.