Coup prompts outcry from Myanmar as West ponders how to respond

(Reuters) – Western leaders condemned the coup by Myanmar’s military against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government and hundreds of thousands of her supporters took to the social media to voice their anger at the takeover.

The sudden turn of events in the early hours of Monday derailed years of efforts to establish democracy in the poverty-stricken country and raised more questions over the prospect of returning a million Rohingya refugees.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong response to the detention of Suu Kyi and dozens of her political allies, although Myanmar’s close ties with council member China will play into any decision.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.

The army handed power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year in the country, saying it had responded to what it called election fraud.

Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, without giving a timeframe.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won a landslide 83% in a Nov. 8 election, said that she called on people to protest against the military takeover, quoting comments it said were written earlier in anticipation of a coup.

But the streets were quiet overnight after troops and riot police took up positions in the capital, Naypyitaw, and the main commercial center Yangon. Phone and internet connections were disrupted.

Many in Myanmar voiced their anger on social media.

Data on Facebook showed more than 325,000 people had used the #SaveMyanmar hashtag denoting opposition to the coup, and some people changed profile pictures to black to show their sorrow or red in support of the NLD, often with a portrait of the 75-year-old Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“We as a citizen of Myanmar not agree with the current move and would like to request the world leaders. UN and the world medias help our country – our leaders- our people – from this bitter acts,” said one widely reposted message.

Four youth groups condemned the coup and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of Monday morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 45 people had been detained.

MINISTERS REMOVED

Consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defense, foreign affairs and interior.

Banks said they would reopen on Tuesday after suspending services on Monday amid a rush to withdraw cash.

Yangon residents had rushed to stock up on supplies while foreign companies from Japanese retail giant Aeon to South Korean trading firm POSCO International and Norway’s Telenor tried to reach staff in Myanmar and assess the turmoil.

Suu Kyi’s election win followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent for decades until her party came to power in 2015.

Her international standing as a human rights icon was severely damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in 2017 and defended the military against accusations of genocide. But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.

“BROKEN WINGS”

The coup followed days of tension between the civilian government and the military. In the pre-written statement on Facebook, Suu Kyi was quoted as saying that an army takeover would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship.”

“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” it said. Reuters was unable to reach any NLD officials to confirm the veracity of the statement.

Supporters of the military celebrated the coup, parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags.

“Today is the day that people are happy,” one nationalist monk told a crowd in a video published on social media.

Democracy activists and NLD voters were horrified and angry. Four youth groups condemned the coup in statements and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

“Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun said.

Senior NLD leader Win Htein said in a Facebook post the army chief’s takeover demonstrated his ambition rather than concern for the country.

In the capital, security forces confined members of parliament to residential compounds on the day they had expected to take up their seats, representative Sai Lynn Myat said.

‘POTENTIAL FOR UNREST’

The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and calls for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, Britain, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.

In Washington, President Biden called on the international community to press Myanmar’s military to give up power, release detainees and refrain from violence against civilians. Those responsible for the coup would be held accountable, he said.

In Japan, a major aid donor with many businesses in Myanmar, a ruling party source said the government may have to rethink the strengthening of defense relations with the country undergone as part of regional efforts to counterbalance China.

China called on all sides in Myanmar to respect the constitution and uphold stability, but “noted” events in the country rather than expressly condemning them.

Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh also condemned the takeover.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, called for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” while in Bangkok, police clashed with a group of pro-democracy demonstrators outside Myanmar’s embassy.

“It’s their internal affair,” a Thai government official said – a hands-off approach also taken by Malaysia and the Philippines.

The November vote faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising many Rohingya but the election commission rejected military complaints of fraud.

In its statement declaring the emergency, the military cited the failure of the commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to postpone new parliamentary sessions, and protests by groups unhappy with the vote.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Angus MacSwan)

Britain cautions Russia not to use detained ex-U.S. marine as pawn

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing Street, London, Britain, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Kate Holton and Gabrielle T’trault-Farber

LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Britain cautioned Russia on Friday that individuals should not be used as diplomatic pawns after a former U.S. marine who also holds a British passport was detained in Moscow on espionage charges.

Paul Whelan was arrested by the FSB state security service on Dec. 28. His family has said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

“Individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage,” British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said.

“We are extremely worried about Paul Whelan. We have offered consular assistance,” Hunt said. “The U.S. are leading on this because he is a British and American citizen.”

Since leaving the U.S. military, Whelan had worked as a global security executive with U.S. companies, had visited Russia and had developed a network of Russian acquaintances.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington had asked Moscow to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention is inappropriate.

The FSB has opened a criminal case against Whelan but given no details of his alleged activities. In Russia, an espionage conviction carries a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison.

Whelan’s detention further complicates a strained relationship between Moscow and Washington, despite the professed desire of the two presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, to build a personal rapport.

U.S. intelligence officials accuse Russia of meddling in U.S. elections – a charge Russia denies.

Putin has previously stated he would rein in Russian retaliatory measures against U.S. interests in the hope relations would improve, but Whelan’s detention indicates the Kremlin’s calculations may now have changed.

SWAP SPECULATION

A Russian national, Maria Butina, admitted last month to U.S. prosecutors that she had tried to infiltrate American conservative groups as an agent for Moscow.

David Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it was “possible, even likely”, that Russia had detained Whelan to set up an exchange for Butina.

Dmitry Novikov, a first deputy head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, commenting on a possible swap, said Russian intelligence first needed to finish their investigations. “Then we’ll see,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Whelan’s British citizenship introduces a new political dimension – relations between London and Moscow have been toxic since the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March last year.

Britain alleges Skripal was poisoned by Russian intelligence agents posing as tourists, while Russia denies any involvement.

RUSSIAN TIES

Paul Whelan is 48 and lives in Novi, Michigan, according to public records. Whelan is director of global security at BorgWarner, a U.S. auto parts maker based in Michigan.

The company said Whelan was “responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and at other company locations around the world”. Its website lists no facilities in Russia.

U.S. media said he had previously worked in security and investigations for the global staffing firm Kelly Services, which is headquartered in Michigan and has operations in Russia.

Whelan’s military record, provided by the Pentagon, showed that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 14 years. The highest rank he attained was staff sergeant. He was discharged in 2008 after being convicted on charges related to larceny, according to his records.

Whelan has for years maintained an account in VKontakte, a Russian social media network, which showed that he had a circle of Russian acquaintances.

Out of the more than 50 people tagged as Whelan’s friends on VKontakte, a significant number were software engineers or worked in the IT sector, and a significant proportion had ties to the fields of defense and security.

One of these people served in the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet, a photo of that person posted on his own account indicated, and a second friend had on his VKontakte page photos of people in the uniform of Russian paratroop forces.

Whelan used the account to send out congratulations on Russian public holidays. In 2015, he posted the words in Russian: “In Moscow…” and accompanied it with a Russian mobile phone number. The number was not answering this week.

According to his brother David, Whelan was in Moscow to attend the wedding of a fellow retired marine. When he was detained he was staying with the rest of the wedding party at Moscow’s upmarket Metropol hotel, the brother said. He did not specify where the wedding itself took place.

An employee at the hotel, who spoke on condition, said on Friday they could not access the hotel’s database to check, but could not recall any weddings being scheduled at the hotel in the second half of December.

(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Saudi Arabia says it has seized over $100 billion in corruption purge

A view shows the Ritz-Carlton hotel's entrance gate in the diplomatic quarter of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 30, 2018.

By Stephen Kalin and Katie Paul

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s government has arranged to seize more than $100 billion through financial settlements with businessmen and officials detained in its crackdown on corruption, the attorney general said on Tuesday.

The announcement appeared to represent a political victory for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched the purge last November and predicted at the time that it would net about $100 billion in settlements.

Dozens of top officials and businessmen were detained in the crackdown, many of them confined and interrogated at Riyadh’s opulent Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Well over 100 detainees are believed to have been released.

Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of global investor Kingdom Holding, and Waleed al-Ibrahim, who controls influential regional broadcaster MBC, were freed last weekend.

“The estimated value of settlements currently stands at more than 400 billion riyals ($106 billion) represented in various types of assets, including real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash and other assets,” Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement.

The huge sum, if it is successfully recovered, would be a big financial boost for the government, which has seen its finances strained by low oil prices. The state budget deficit this year is projected at 195 billion riyals.

In total, the investigation subpoenaed 381 people, some of whom testified or provided evidence, Mojeb said, adding that 56 people had not reached settlements and were still in custody, down from 95 early last week.

The government has generally declined to reveal details of the allegations against detainees or their settlements, making it impossible to be sure how much corruption has been punished or whether the $100 billion figure is realistic.

The only settlement disclosed so far was a deal by senior prince Miteb bin Abdullah to pay more than $1 billion, according to Saudi officials. Miteb was once seen as a leading contender for the throne, so his detention fueled suspicion among foreign diplomats there might be political motives behind the purge.

Although officials said both Prince Alwaleed and Ibrahim reached financial settlements after admitting unspecified “violations”, Prince Alwaleed continued to insist publicly he was innocent, while MBC said Ibrahim had been fully exonerated.

Economy minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri told CNN this month that most assets seized in the purge were illiquid, such as real estate and structured financial instruments. That suggested the government may not have gained large sums of cash to spend.

In another sign that the investigation was winding down, a Saudi official told Reuters on Tuesday that all detainees had now left the Ritz-Carlton. The hotel, where the cheapest room costs $650 a night, is to reopen to the public in mid-February.

Some detainees are believed to have been moved from the hotel to prison after refusing to admit wrongdoing and reach financial settlements; they may stand trial.

Bankers in the Gulf said the secrecy of the crackdown had unsettled the business community and could weigh on the willingness of local and foreign businesses to invest.

“It’s reassuring if this situation is finally at an end, as the process was not clear from the start and at least if it is now ended, that provides some clarity and closure,” said a banker who deals with Saudi Arabia.

But Prince Mohammed appears to have won widespread approval for the purge among ordinary Saudis, partly because the government has said it will use some of the money it seizes to fund social benefits.

“What has happened is great, it will be counted as a win for the government. Whoever the person is, he is being held accountable, whether a royal or a citizen,” said Abdullah al-Otaibi, drinking at a Riyadh coffee shop on Tuesday.

An international financier visiting the region said authorities’ tough approach might ultimately prove effective.

“There are many different ways to fight corruption and not all of them are effective. Ukraine tried to do it by creating institutions, but that hasn’t really worked as that approach doesn’t change behavior,” he said.

“Saudi’s approach stands a better chance of being effective as it’s more direct.”

(Additional reporting by Sarah Dadouch in Riyadh and Tom Arnold in Dubai; Reporting by Andrew Torchia and Angus MacSwan)

After one week, Myanmar silent on whereabouts of detained Reuters journalists

After one week, Myanmar silent on whereabouts of detained Reuters journalists

YANGON (Reuters) – Two Reuters journalists completed a week in detention in Myanmar on Tuesday, with no word on where they were being held as authorities proceeded with an investigation into whether they violated the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were arrested last Tuesday evening after they were invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.

“We and their families continue to be denied access to them or to the most basic information about their well-being and whereabouts,” Reuters President and Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement calling for their immediate release.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are journalists who perform a crucial role in shedding light on news of global interest, and they are innocent of any wrongdoing.”

The news group Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) on Tuesday cited government spokesman Zaw Htay as saying that the journalists were “being treated well and in good health”.

It gave no further details in its online report.

Reuters was unable to reach Zaw Htay for comment.

Myanmar’s civilian president, Htin Kyaw, a close ally of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has authorized the police to proceed with a case against the reporters, Zaw Htay said on Sunday.

Approval from the president’s office is needed before court proceedings can begin in cases brought under the Official Secrets Act, which has a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

The two journalists had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis that has seen an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims flee from a fierce military crackdown on militants in the western state of Rakhine.

CRITICISM FROM FAR AND WIDE

A number of governments, including the United States, Canada and Britain, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as well as a host of journalists’ and human rights’ groups, have criticized the arrests as an attack on press freedom and called on Myanmar to release the two men.

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini added her voice on Monday, with her spokeswoman describing the arrests as “a cause of real concern”.

“Freedom of the press and media is the foundation and a cornerstone of any democracy,” the spokeswoman said.

Myanmar has seen rapid growth in independent media since censorship imposed under the former junta was lifted in 2012.

Rights groups were hopeful there would be further gains in press freedoms after Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi came to power last year amid a transition from full military rule that had propelled her from political prisoner to elected leader.

However, advocacy groups say freedom of speech has been eroded since she took office, with many arrests of journalists, restrictions on reporting in Rakhine state and heavy use of state-run media to control the narrative.

BLACK SHIRTS PROTEST

About 20 local reporters belonging to the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists (PCMJ) posted pictures on Tuesday of themselves wearing black shirts as a sign of protest. They said their act was meant “to signify the dark age of media freedom”.

“By wearing black shirts, all journalists should show unity,” said Tha Lun Zaung Htet, a producer and presenter at DVB Debate TV and a leading member of the PCMJ. “We must fight for press freedom with unity.”

But most journalists in Yangon did not take part in the campaign. Mya Hnin Aye, senior executive editor at the Voice Weekly, said few participated because the arrested journalists work for foreign media, much of whose “reporting on the Rakhine issue is biased”.

Myo Nyunt, deputy director for Myanmar’s Ministry of Information, told Reuters the case against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had nothing to do with press freedom, and said journalists have “freedom to write and speak”.

The Ministry of Information said last week that the two journalists had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”, and released a photo of them in handcuffs.

The authorities have not allowed the journalists any contact with their families, a lawyer or Reuters since their arrest.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called on the authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of the pair.

“All detainees must be allowed prompt access to a lawyer and to family members,” Frederick Rawski, the ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said in a statement on Monday.

“Authorities are bound to respect these rights in line with Myanmar law and the State’s international law obligations.”

On Sunday, spokesman Zaw Htay said the journalists’ legal rights were being respected. “Your reporters are protected by the rule of the law.”

(Reporting by Yimou Lee, Thu Thu Aung, Shoon Naing and Simon Lewis; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson and; Raju Gopalakrishnan)

U.S. says concerned about Myanmar’s silence over where Reuters journalists are being held

U.S. says concerned about Myanmar's silence over where Reuters journalists are being held

YANGON (Reuters) – The U.S. embassy in Myanmar said on Friday it was concerned that there had been no word on the whereabouts of two Reuters journalists three days after they were detained, and that authorities had not allowed their families to visit them.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information said on Wednesday that the reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and two policemen, faced charges under the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act, though officials have since disclosed that they have not been charged. The 1923 law carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

The journalists had worked on stories about a military crackdown in Rakhine state, which has triggered the flight of more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to southern Bangladesh since the end of August.

“We remain concerned about Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Their families and others have not been allowed to see them, and don’t even know where they are being held.”

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s spokesman Motosada Matano, said the Japanese government is closely watching the situation. He said Japan has been conducting a dialogue with the Myanmar government on human rights in Myanmar in general.

Bangladesh, which is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees into its southern tip, condemned the arrests of reporters working for an agency that had shone a light for the world on the strife in Rakhine state.

“We strongly denounce arrests of Reuters journalists and feel that those reporters be free immediately so that they can depict the truth to the world by their reporting,” said Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, information adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that the arrests were a signal that press freedom is shrinking in Myanmar and the international community must do all it can to get them released.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo went missing on Tuesday evening after they had been invited to meet police officials over dinner on the northern outskirts of Yangon.

Gutteres said they were probably detained because they were reporting on the “massive human tragedy” in Rakhine state.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh say their exodus from the mainly Buddhist nation was triggered by a military offensive in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces.

The United Nations has branded the military’s campaign “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” of the minority Rohingya.

POLICE HAVE 28 DAYS TO FILE A CASE

The Ministry of Information said the reporters “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”, and released a photo of the pair in handcuffs.

As of Friday evening, Reuters had not been formally contacted by officials about the detention of Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27.

A court official in the northern district of Yangon where they were detained, said that no paperwork had yet been filed relating to either journalist. The official said that usually cases are lodged 20-30 days after an arrest as suspects can be held in custody for up to 28 days without being charged.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler has called for the immediate release of the journalists, saying in a statement on Wednesday that the global news organization was “outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom”.

Britain has expressed “grave concerns” to the government of Myanmar over the arrest of the two journalists, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters in London on Thursday.

“We are committed to freedom of speech and people’s ability to report the facts and bring into the public domain what is happening in Rakhine state,” he said.

(Writing by John Chalmers\; Editing by Martin Howell)

Britain preparing to transfer 400 million pounds to Iran – Telegraph newspaper

Britain preparing to transfer 400 million pounds to Iran - Telegraph newspaper

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is preparing to transfer over 400 million pounds ($527 million) to Iran as it seeks the release of a jailed Iranian-British aid worker, The Telegraph newspaper reported, citing unidentified British sources.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was sentenced to five years after being convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. She denies the charges.

Britain has sought legal advice over whether it could transfer the funds which it owes as a result of a disputed arms deal in the 1970s. Diplomats told the newspaper that any payment should not be linked to the fate of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters. It operates independently of Reuters News.

A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office could not be reached for comment out of normal business hours.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish authorities issued detention warrants on Saturday for 100 former police officers and have so far detained 63 of them, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, as part of a widening crackdown since last year’s failed coup attempt.

The suspects were believed to be users of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app which the government says was used by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating last July’s abortive putsch.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies involvement.

Anadolu said security forces were seeking the suspects in 19 provinces across the country.

Since the abortive coup, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial over alleged links to Gulen, while 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern about the crackdown, fearing the government is using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government says only such a purge could neutralize the threat represented by Gulen’s network, which it says deeply infiltrated institutions such as the army, schools and courts.

 

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Adrian Croft)

 

U.S. will only talk to North Korea about freeing U.S. citizens: White House

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement on the mass shooting in Las Vegas from the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will not hold any talks with North Korea at this time, except for possible conversations about freeing U.S. citizens who have been detained there, the White House said on Monday.

“We’ve been clear that now is not the time to talk,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, amplifying on a tweet from President Donald Trump over the weekend that had been seen as undercutting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The only conversations that have taken place, or that would, would be on bringing back Americans who have been detained,” Sanders said. “Beyond that, there will be no conversations with North Korea at this time.”

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander)

 

Iran denies appeal of jailed Princeton student: university

Xiyue Wang, a naturalized American citizen from China, arrested in Iran last August while researching Persian history for his doctoral thesis at Princeton University, is shown with his wife and son in this family photo released in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. on July 18, 2017. Courtesy Wang Family photo via Princeton University/Handout via REUTERS

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian authorities have denied the appeal of a Princeton University student who had been convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the university and his wife said on Thursday.

Xiyue Wang, a history doctoral student and U.S. citizen who was conducting dissertation research in Iran in 2016 when he was detained by Iranian authorities, was accused by Iran of “spying under the cover of research,” a claim his family and university deny.

“Iranian authorities have denied Xiyue Wang’s appeal of his conviction and 10-year prison sentence for espionage that he did not attempt or commit,” Princeton University said in a statement. “We are distressed that his appeal was denied, and that he remains unjustly imprisoned.”

It was not immediately clear when exactly Wang’s appeal was denied. News of his detention in Iran and his 10-year sentence first came in mid-July.

“I am devastated that my husband’s appeal has been denied, and that he continues to be unjustly imprisoned in Iran on groundless accusations of espionage and collaboration with a hostile government against the Iranian state,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement on Princeton’s website. “Our young son and I have not seen Xiyue in more than a year, and we miss him very much.”

Iran had said Wang was an American spy.

Qu said she worries about Wang’s health and well-being while he is in prison.

“We hope the Iranian officials can release him immediately so he can resume his studies at home and so that our family will be together again,” she said.

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A State Department official declined to offer specific information on Wang’s case, citing privacy concerns.

“We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran so they can return to their families,” the official said.

President Donald Trump has taken a hard line against Iran and his administration has vowed to counter what it sees as Iran’s destabilizing policies in the Middle East.

Last month, the White House said Trump “is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned American citizens are released and returned,” though it did not specify what those consequences might be.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Turkey opens trial of nearly 500 defendants over failed coup

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses academics during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey July 26, 2017. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) – Nearly 500 suspects including army generals and pilots went on trial in Turkey on Tuesday, many of them accused of commanding last year’s failed coup attempt from an air base in the capital Ankara.

Families of those killed or wounded protested outside the courthouse, with some throwing hangman’s nooses or stones toward the defendants as they arrived under tight guard, shouting “murderers” and demanding that the death penalty be reinstated.

The government declared a state of emergency after the coup attempt and embarked on a large-scale crackdown that has alarmed Western allies of Ankara, a NATO member and candidate for European Union membership.

A total of 461 suspects jailed pending trial were brought to the courthouse, handcuffed and each flanked by two gendarme officers. Seven defendants are still on the run, while another 18 have been charged but not in jail.

The main defendant in the case is the 76-year-old U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are blamed by the government for carrying out the failed coup. Gulen is being tried in absentia, and denies any role in the coup attempt.

Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and other defendants stationed at an air base northwest of the capital are accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including parliament, and attempting to kill President Tayyip Erdogan.

If convicted, many of the 486 suspects risk life terms in prison for crimes that include violating the constitution, attempted assassination of the president, trying to abolish the republic and seizing military headquarters.

Several similar cases are under way in Turkey after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that resulted in some 250 deaths. Some 30 coup plotters were also killed.

The authorities declared a state of emergency following the coup and embarked on a crackdown on Gulen’s network and other opponents, arresting more than 50,000 people and purging over 150,000 people from public sector jobs.

Alarmed by the crackdown, Germany wants to suspend talks about modernizing the EU-Turkey customs union and wants measures implemented to raise financial pressure on Turkey to respect the rule of law, according to a draft paper seen by Reuters.

Erdogan’s government says the purge is needed to address Turkey’s security challenges and to root out what it says is a deeply embedded network of Gulen supporters – who were once Erdogan’s allies until they fell out in 2013.

The government says the coup-plotters used Akinci air base as their headquarters. Turkey’s military chief Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.

(Reporting by Mert Ozkan; Writing by Ece Toksabay, editing by Alister Doyle)