Iran’s judiciary, which broke the news of Mr. Wang’s arrest and punishment on Sunday, said Mr. Wang had entered the country “under the cover of a researcher,” had secretly worked for American and British intelligence via a “spider web” of connections and had digitally archived 4,500 documents.
Mr. Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which could further irritate relations with the United States, where Iran’s incarceration of Americans has been a festering issue.
Princeton University acknowledged after the announcement that it had known about Mr. Wang’s arrest but had sought to keep it quiet, respecting his family’s wishes while working with the State Department and other channels to secure his release. Mr. Wang has a wife and a child in the United States.
In a statement to Princeton University faculty, students and staff on Monday, the university’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, explained the school’s earlier silence, saying it reflected “the recommendation of multiple advisers inside and outside of government who counseled us that publicity might be harmful to our student’s interests.”
Mr. Wang’s colleagues were frank in their anger about what had befallen him.
“Xiyue Wang is an unbelievable scholar, father and classmate,” Elaine Ayers, a doctoral candidate in the history of science, wrote on her Twitter account. “Beyond concern for his safety and well-being.”
Anna Lind-Guzik, a graduate student in Russian history, wrote: “This is nuts! Xiyue Wang is a friend. We did all our coursework together. He’s a kind family man, great scholar & furthest thing from a spy.”
Mr. Wang’s thesis adviser, Professor Stephen Kotkin, strongly defended Mr. Wang’s work in a statement sent via email, describing him as a linguistically gifted doctoral candidate whose research “required field work at multiple sites throughout a vast and complex region.”
Mr. Kotkin also implicitly criticized the Iranian judicial authorities, saying they made a colossal misjudgment about what constitutes espionage.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that has advocated for improved relations with Iran, also described the…