Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student who was wrongfully imprisoned by Iran’s regime between 2016-2019, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday he met an Iranian Jew in Tehran's Evin prison who was incarcerated for his stay in Israel.
Wang said the Iranian Jew who “went to Israel” was “given a 10 year sentence” when he returned to the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic proscribes travel to Israel a crime.
Wang said the Iranian Jew lived for “5 or 6 years in Israel” and “did not like Israel.”
“The problem they had with him was that he went to Israel,” said Wang, who described the Iranian Jew as “big guy” who is still in prison, “I would think.” Wang noted that the Iranian Jew did not reveal much about himself.
“Sometimes Iranian Jews go to Israel and the Iranian government pretends it did not know,” said Wang, who is the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
The Post conducted a Persian-language Internet search about the Iranian Jewish political prisoner. There was no open source material or media reports on his case.
The Islamic Republic frequently does not disclose the incarcerations or executions of sensitive political prisoner cases to avoid further reputational damage to its opaque judicial system.
In December, this paper reported that Iran’s regime freed imprisoned Iranian Jew Mashallah Pesar Kohan, who was detained in 2017 for visiting his family members in Israel.
Kohan is not the same prisoner that Wang conversed with in Evin.
Wang said he shared the same cell with Mohammad Heydari Kahkesh, an Iranian bodybuilder, who was imprisoned because he wanted to travel to Israel for a sports competition.
Wang said Kahkesh “wanted to go to Israel for a tournament” and that “sports should have no boundaries.” He was “arrested in 2017, to my knowledge, and he was given three years” in prison.
He said the bodybuilder “put forward an official request” and “did not try to go illegally” to the Jewish state. Wang said Kahkesh was not “working with Israel in any way.”
According to the website of United Against a Nuclear Iran, Iran’s judiciary charged Kahkesh with “collaboration with foreign governments” and imposed a seven prison sentence on the athlete.
The formal Iranian regime charges listed on UANI’s website against Kahkesh are: Insulting the prophet / Insulting Islamic sanctities; propaganda against the state; insulting the leader or the founder of the Islamic Republic.
Wang said Kahkesh appeared to be naïve about the Islamic Republic’s opposition to normal diplomatic relations with Israel. For the bodybuilder, Wang said, it was about “why can’t I have a normal relationship with Israel? There should not be any hurdle for athletes to compete [anywhere], including Israel, and he wanted to do it openly.”
He continued that Kahkesh “loves his country but wants to compete in Israel.” The Iran expert said “That is what precisely makes it sad – he wanted to compete in Israel – the same for ordinary Iranians. Israelis do not mind competing against Iranians, why can’t Iranians do the same?”
Wang said that “He requested permission [to travel to Israel] and that was enough for him to end up in jail for 3 years, and he was angry and called Manoto.”
Manoto TV is a privately-owned station Persian-language outlet based in London. After Kahkesh gave an interview to Manoto, the Iranian “authorities found out and transferred” him to a harsher prison, Wang said.
Prison officials prohibited him from making telephone calls.
The Post reported in January that Iran’s clerical regime temporarily released Farahnaz Kohan, an Iranian Jewish woman who was arrested for her alleged visit to Israel.
There are less than 10,000 Iranian Jews in the Islamic Republic. When the Islamic revolution engulfed Iran in 1979, 80,000–100,000 Jews were living in Iran, the vast majority of whom have fled the country due to persecution.
In a Wall Street Journal article printed in February, Wang shared the lessons he learned from his imprisonment in Iran.
“Imagine my shock when the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence arrested me on false espionage charges in August 2016," he wrote, "shortly after the implementation of the JCPOA – during what appeared to be a period of rapprochement between the US and Iran.""I was thrown into solitary confinement, forced to confess things my interrogator knew I had not done, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.”
He added that “My interrogator made clear that my sole ‘crime’ was being an American. He told me I was to be used as a pawn in exchange for US-held Iranian prisoners and the release of frozen Iranian assets."Wang told the Post it is likely the Iranian regime believed he may have links to Israel due to some Baháʼís allegedly funding the Princeton University Iran Center. Located in Haifa, the Baháʼí World Centre predates the creation of Israel.Wang was eventually released in a poisoner swap two years ago. The Post sent press a query to the Foreign Ministry seeking information about the case of the imprisoned Iranian Jew and his status as an Israeli citizen.