UW Law celebrates favorable United Nations ruling

posted Sep 10, 2018

The International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law has been working with a Washington mother to win freedom for her son, a UW alumnus, detained in Iran.

For immediate release:

United Nations rules U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang’s imprisonment in Iran illegal, arbitrary

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that Iran's detention of U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang is illegal and arbitrary, and that he must be released immediately.

The Working Group, an international panel of five independent human rights experts, responded to a petition submitted Wang’s mother, Kexu Lan, and his wife, Hua Qu. The Working Group fully assessed the evidence in Wang's case, as well as responses from the government of Iran. Wang, a University of Washington alumnus, has been imprisoned in Iran since August 2016.

"After over two years of injustice, Xiyue finally has an independent assessment of the human rights violations committed against him," said Alejandra Gonza, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law, which has been representing Lan.  "This is a resounding decision in his favor. Iran has fully engaged in the process, submitted a response and lost on the merits.  We are looking forward to working with Iran, the U.S. government, U.N. agencies, and the international community to implement this important decision, so that we can bring Xiyue home to his family.

Wang is a student at Princeton University pursuing a doctorate in 19th-century Persian history.  He was in Iran conducting research when he was arrested, and later tried and convicted of espionage.  In April 2017, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, the maximum sentence allowed for the crime. 

The U.N. Working Group specifically found that Wang was detained because of his U.S. citizenship and for exercising his freedom of speech through his academic research.  Furthermore, the Group found that there was no legitimate basis for Wang’s arrest and detention, despite Iran’s claim that Wang committed espionage.  The U.N. Working Group noted that Iran’s vague espionage law has historically been used as a pretext for detaining foreigners, and there is a pattern of arbitrary detention that may constitute crimes against humanity.  

Finally, the U.N. Working Group found that Wang’s rights had been violated before, during and after his trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, and his detention conditions need to be assessed by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.  It noted that Wang was not informed of the reasons for his arrest or the charges against him; his family and U.S. authorities were not notified of his detention; he was denied access to an attorney, placed in solitary confinement for 18 days then forced to sign a confession; and he was held without a hearing for more than seven months.  His trial was not open to the public, and his attorney was not permitted to call witnesses or speak on his behalf until the end.  Moreover, the judge who presided over his trial is known for conducting show trials, and has been previously sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations.

“For the last two years we have been working day and night to bring my son home. The United Nations decision brings me hope and strength to fight for his quick return.  I will continue trying everything to reunite our family, and I count on UW students’ support,” said Lan, who lives in Seattle.

Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said, “I am calling on the U.S. government and the international community to work together at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly toward the swift release and safe return of Xiyue Wang.”

The U.N. Working Group called on Iran to release Wang immediately, to offer him compensation and reparations, to investigate the circumstances surrounding his detention, and to modify its laws to prevent similar situations.


Hua Qu, the wife of Xiyue Wang, also issued a statement in response to the UN Working Group’s report.