US citizen Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor on Iranian state television's English-language service Press TV, was arrested yesterday while boarding an internal US flight from St. Louis to Denver on undisclosed charges.
Hashemi – an American convert to Islam since 1982 – was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in St. Louis, in the state of US Missouri, where she had been filming a Black Lives Matter documentary. She was then taken to Washington DC, according to her elder son Hossein Hashemi.
The news anchor had been traveling within the United States to visit her brother, who is unwell. Her family had been unable to contact Hashemi for over 48 hours, only recently finding out about her detention.
The FBI said that it had no comment on the arrest of Hashemi, who was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans, Louisiana, and has worked for Press TV for 25 years, the Associated Press reported.
In a phone interview Hashemi's son told the press that the family "still [has] no idea what's going on," revealing that he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
The reasons for Hashemi's arrest remain unknown but, under US law, federal judges can order witnesses to be arrested and detained if the government can prove their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
Hashemi, however, has still not been released. Her son told the press that his mother would "absolutely" have been willing to cooperate with the FBI over any criminal investigation, but no attempt was made by the agency to contact his mother. Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone that would warrant her arrest, Hashemi said: "We don't have any information along those lines."
Claims that Hashemi was mistreated by the FBI were reported by Press TV. The Iranian TV channel said that Hashemi, who has been living in Iran for years, told her daughter that she was handcuffed and shackled and was being treated like a criminal.
It is also alleged that Hashemi had her hijab forcibly removed and was photographed without her headscarf upon arrival at the prison. The journalist was then offered only pork as a meal – which is forbidden under Islamic law – and even denied bread or other food that meets her religious requirements. Hashemi's detention has been reported to the UN Rapporteur on Arbitrary Detention.
Her arrest comes during a tense period in relations between the US and Iran. Tehran had enjoyed a period of truce under former US President, Barack Obama, but the last two years has seen relations sour as sitting US President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions and broke the 2015 nuclear treaty, against the advice of his European allies.
It's not clear if Hashemi has become a victim of the cold war between Washington and Tehran, or whether her arrest is a reaction to the detention of US Navy veteran Michael R. White. The US citizen is being held in prison by Iran, making him the first American known to be detained during Trump's administration. At least four other American citizens are being held in Iran.
A campaign on social media has been launched with hashtags #FreeMarziehHashemi and #Pray4MarziehHashemi. Critics have denounced her arrest, pointing out that Hashemi was born in the US and is an American citizen and, despite not being found guilty of any crimes, has been detained without anyone's knowledge and without any charges.