Iran’s state English television network Press TV says one of its journalists, an American-Iranian woman from New Orleans named Marzieh Hashemi, is being held in an FBI detention center in Washington D.C. The network says Hashemi “has been subjected to violent and abusive treatment from the very onset.”
In a statement published Wednesday, Press TV said Hashemi, an anchor for the network, traveled to the United States to visit her brother, who’s suffering from cancer. On Sunday, the broadcaster said, Hashemi was arrested at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport and was later transferred to a detention center in D.C.
The broadcaster said Hashemi has not yet been arraigned and hasn’t been given a reason for her arrest. According to the network’s statement, Hashemi told her family in a call after she was detained that she’d been forced to remove her hijab. The broadcaster also alleged Hashemi has been refused halal food and has only subsisted on crackers since her arrest.
“The resulting malnutrition, compounded by cold weather conditions, has made her weak and infirm,” the statement said.
When reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, the FBI declined to comment on the story to Splinter and later referred us to the Department of Justice. An email to the Department of Justice carried the disclaimer that inquiries might not get a response until the shutdown is over and full funding is restored to the federal government. The Federal Public Defender’s Office in D.C. said they weren’t aware of whether Hashemi had been assigned an attorney, although the head of PressTV’s parent network said that the broadcaster will take “any necessary legal action to secure” Hashemi’s release. We’ll update this story if we receive any new information.
According to the Associated Press, Hashemi converted to Islam in 1982 after meeting Iranian student activists in Denver, and has worked at the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) for 25 years. The AP also reported that Hashemi still holds American citizenship.
Her brother, Milton Leroy Franklin of Louisiana, told the AP that she splits her time between Iran and Colorado, where her children live. He said that the family is “in the dark” as to what’s going on as well:
“We don’t have any detailed information except she’s being held. And her son is being held in a hotel in (Washington) and she’s being held in some form of prison or incarcerated area,” Franklin said. “I’m very concerned. There’s no way of getting any word to her and she can’t send any out, apparently. We’re all in the dark and just waiting and praying that they release her.”
He said she had visited to help plan a family reunion.
“We all got together, a small celebration, and prepared for the next time she would come,” Franklin said. “They detained her on her way back home, from what I understand. We’re looking to find out more.”
The United States fell two places to no. 45 worldwide in Reporters’ Without Borders World Press Freedom index in 2018. Iran was 164. We’ve reached out to Reporters Without Borders for comment, and will update with any response we receive.
In its statement, Press TV said the U.S. is “accountable for any potential harm or hazard” that comes to Hashemi. “We, further, call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ms. Hashemi,” the statement reads, “and for the US government to apologize to both the journalist and the international media community for her treatment.”
Update, 5:13 p.m. ET: The AP spoke to Hashemi’s son, who says she’s being held as a material witness, although it’s unclear what the charges are. The AP also reported that Hashemi was in St. Louis because she was filming a documentary about Black Lives Matter.
“We still have no idea what’s going on. My siblings and I also have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. We don’t know what this is about or how it’s unfolding,” Hussein Hashemi, a University of Colorado research fellow, told the AP.
“I don’t know how the legality of [how material witnesses work],” Hashemi told the AP. “But without charges they are able to arrest her and keep her in prison.”