People walk past Princeton University's Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey.

Professor Under Fire For Abandoning Kidnapped Princeton Scholars

Sunday, 11/26/2023
Benjamin Weinthal

Benjamin Weinthal is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Princeton's Hossein Mousavian has been drawn out of the shadows by a congressional probe into his alleged failure to help rescue Xiyue Wang from captivity in Iran.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced on November 16 that the New Jersey-based Princeton University is the subject of an investigation over the role of its controversial academic Mousavian, a former Iranian regime ambassador to Germany.

The twelve Republican lawmakers wrote: “During Mousavian’s tenure at Princeton, one of its students, Xiyue Wang, was held hostage in Iran. Given Mousavian’s experience as a former high-ranking official with the government of Iran, did Princeton ask Mousavian to assist in any way for Xiyue Wang’s release? Did Mousavian offer to use his contacts to try to free Xiyue Wang?”

The congressional representatives requested that Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber answer their questions about Mousavian’s alleged failure to aid the Chinese-American scholar Wang.

Tehran-Linked Professor Hossein Mousavian

Wang told Iran International that “Princeton did not use its leverage, Mousavian, to get me out and it is not using its leverage to get Elizabeth Tsurkov out.”

Tsurkov,a Russian-Israeli PhD student at Princeton University, was kidnapped by the pro-Iran regime militia Kata'ib Hezbollah in March, 2023 in Iraq.

“Based on my understanding that Mousavian did not help me I would guess he is not working to help Tsurkov, “added Wang, who was imprisoned in Iran between August, 2016 and December 2019.

He and his wife, Hua Qu, sued Princeton University in 2021. Wang and his wife claimed they suffered “severe personal injuries and other irreparable harm, with respect to Princeton’s “reckless, willful, wanton, and grossly negligent acts.”

Wang and Qu settled the lawsuit in September. The elements of the settlement have not been made public. The 45 page civil suit against Princeton, which includes 16 mentions of Mousavian, can be read here.

In his first interview with Iran International, the embattled Princeton academic Mousavian said about Wang’s accusations that “Such claims are because they do not understand Iran. It is true that I was the former spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear negotiation team and a friend of the then Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during my service at the Iranian foreign ministry. “

Mousavian added, “However, neither Rouhani as the then president, nor Zarif as the then foreign minister had no power, influence and authority to intervene in Wang’s case. In 2009, an Iranian court sentenced the brother of President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoun, to five years in prison.”

Wang countered that “The problem is not really whether Zarif or Rouhani could help. The problem is Mousavian decided he was not going to do anything. Iranian intelligence first confiscated my passport. And 18 days later they arrested me. During this time , I asked Princeton to ask Mousavian to help. And Mousavian decided not to do anything. When you have a person with that level of connections in your institution, you would expect he would act.”

When Iran International first asked Mousavian about the two Princeton students who were kidnapped, the former ambassador said, “I don’t know the students, but I believe any kidnapping, assassination and terror by anyone, anywhere and for any reason is a clear violation of international rules and regulations.”

Wang’s lawsuit stated, “Since joining Princeton in 2009, Mr. Mousavian has written many articles and made many media appearances where he has advocated in favor of the United States allowing Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities. Mr. Mousavian is understood to be a strong and avid supporter of the current Iranian terrorist regime. Mr. Mousavian frequently published pro-regime articles throughout Mr. Wang’s imprisonment in Evin Prison.”

Wang said, “Princeton knew I was held as a hostage as a bargaining chip and yet they were allowing Mousavian to use Princeton to promote the Iranian regime’s interests in the US, Iran and around the world.”

He asked “Why is Mousavian allowed to use his Princeton byline to criticize the US while I am in jail? Princeton, at the level of the university, is in the forefront of the pro-Iran engagement policy. Princeton’s pro-Iran engagement is not working.” He cited the case of Tsurkov, noting “When you have a student get arrested again in the span of a few years that says something.”

Wang said he was “glad” the congressional committee is investigating Princeton and Mousavian, adding they are “asking Princeton some questions that it really needs to answer. Mousavian is representing the Iranian regime unofficially. This is not academic freedom but harboring an agent. Why is Princeton giving the Iranian regime a prestigious platform for the Iranian regime’s interests? Princeton needs to come clean.”

Numerous Iran International press queries to Princeton University went unanswered.

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