RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Qu Hua's son starts kindergarten this week in Princeton, N.J. It is an emotional week for any parent, even more so for Hua. She and her son arrived in the U.S. from China four years ago to reunite with her husband, Wang Xiyue.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
But Wang won't see their son off to school. He has been imprisoned in Iran since 2016 after traveling to Tehran as a Princeton University grad student to research 19th-century political history. The Iranian government contends he is a spy. And he's just one American citizen, one of dozens, the Iranian government has detained since the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought the current government to power.
MARTIN: This week, a United Nations committee released a statement concluding that Iran has, quote, "no legal basis" for Wang's detention. His wife told me what it's been like to navigate difficult conversations through international diplomatic channels and at home.
Your son is now 5 years old.
QU HUA: Yes.
MARTIN: As I mentioned, he started kindergarten this week.
MARTIN: Does he understand where his father is?
QU: Yes. He learned about it from a conversation with my friends on this case since he was 3 years old. So his friends - at day care, when the first group of people learn about this and start talking about this. And they learned and talked about in a way that my son's - Shaofan's dad has been taken by bad place.
MARTIN: What kind of questions does he ask you about his dad?
QU: Actually, he seldomly mention about his dad and this. When his dad got a chance to speak with us - and it's very difficult to form a conversation with our son. It's just very unfortunate.
MARTIN: How often do you get to speak with Xiyue?
QU: In the first year, he can call me weekly basis, 10 minutes every week. And now this since (ph) has extended to a second year, and he is allowed to call me on daily basis.
MARTIN: What do you know? What can you tell us about where he's being held and his condition?
QU: He was put in solitary confinement for about 20 days. That was the most - darkest period in the past two years. And then he was transferred to where it's worst in the political prison of Evin until August last year. So for over a whole year that he has been subject to very harsh living conditions.
MARTIN: How does he spend his days?
QU: It's really difficult because he is subject to harsh conditions. And his physical and mental health are rapidly deteriorating. He has lost weight, developed arthritis in both of his knees, suffered rashes and pains all over his body and, of course, fallen victim to depression.
MARTIN: Let me ask you, Hua, what is your understanding of why he's being held? I mean, he was detained as the United States and Iran were implementing the nuclear agreement.
MARTIN: And since then, that has been rescinded by the Trump administration. But do you believe there is a connection between his detention and the nuclear standoff?
QU: Yes, I think of course. But his own activities is just peacefully exercising his research - academic research. There's nothing to do with any political things. But the reality is, unfortunately, that Iran pick him up even though he is completely innocent, using him as a political bargain.
MARTIN: So you don't like the idea of his release being incorporated into larger geopolitical negotiations.
QU: I think his release has to be resolved through diplomacy. That is only way that he can be released - I mean, on humanitarian grounds.
MARTIN: The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, this committee, said earlier this week that your husband is being held because he's a U.S. citizen. How did Iran respond to this? Have they responded?
QU: Iran, actually, they seldomly respond to a petition like this. But they did in my husband's case. They filed a lengthy reply letter. But they was not able to deliver any evidence how my husband conducted espionage and how his academic research has any linkage to overthrow the Iranian government. It has failed to prove anything to defend their accusations against my husband.
MARTIN: Are you getting enough help from the U.S. government, the Trump administration?
QU: Yes. I met with Ambassador Nikki Haley at end of August. And she promised she will do everything she can to bring my husband home as soon as possible.
MARTIN: Do you believe that the U.S. will broach your husband's detention when the U.N. holds its General Assembly meeting in New York next week?
QU: I hope so. Of course, I don't know any concrete plan. But I hope that our government can spotlight this case at upcoming UNGA because all the world leaders will come to New York. And I think what happened to my husband is wrong. My husband is totally a hostage taken by Iran for their political purposes. This has to be resolved.
MARTIN: How do you fight the despair?
QU: I keep myself focused, just take one step at a time and persistently working on this. And I have my supporting group, the parents from my son's day care and my friends in Princeton. They're very supportive, and they're helping me by all means they can offer to help. So I feel fortunate I have this supporting system here while I'm alone in a foreign country. I just keep other work until the day Wang Xiyue can come home and we can reunite and proceed with our life and he can find alternative research topic...
QU: ...To be a successful scholar (laughter).
MARTIN: Qu Hua - her husband is being detained in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. He was there doing academic research for Princeton University.
Qu Hua, thank you so much for talking with us.
QU: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF OSKAR SCHUSTER'S "MARIBEL")
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