New York, January 17, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern about the detention of Marzieh Hashemi, a TV anchor and documentary filmmaker for the English-language service of Iranian state broadcaster Press TV, and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to disclose the reason for her arrest.
Hashemi–who according to news reports has U.S. and Iranian dual citizenship–was arrested on January 13 in St. Louis, Missouri, and transferred to an FBI detention center in Washington, D.C., according to an article from Press TV.
The journalist’s son, Hossein Hashemi, told The Associated Press that his mother was arrested when she was about to board a plane at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, and that she is being held as a material witness. Federal law allows the government to arrest and detain a witness if it can prove that their testimony is material to a criminal proceeding and that it cannot guarantee their presence through a subpoena.
CPJ has been unable to verify independently Hashemi’s whereabouts or the reason for her detention.
The St. Louis office of the FBI referred CPJ to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to an email inquiry about the case. Phone calls to the Department of Justice’s office of public affairs went to a recording. In its report, Press TV said it is unaware of any charges or the reason for the journalist’s arrest. According to AP, there are no records of a case against Hashemi in federal courts or in Missouri.
“We are concerned by the arrest of a journalist for Iranian state TV, Marzieh Hashemi, and call on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately disclose the basis for her detention for the past five days,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, CPJ’s North America program coordinator.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for the release of Hashemi in an interview with state broadcaster Al-Alam News Network. He called her arrest a violation of free speech and a “political ploy.”
Iran routinely jails journalists, with at least eight behind bars in relation to their work when CPJ conducted its annual global prison census in December. In a special report last year, CPJ found that journalists who have dual citizenship face special risks working in Iran–as demonstrated by the 544-day imprisonment of U.S.-Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian, a correspondent for The Washington Post.
Hashemi was born Melanie Franklin in the U.S. and changed her name after converting to Islam, according to news reports. She has lived in Iran for over a decade, the reports said. She was traveling to the U.S. to visit a family member diagnosed with cancer, according to Press TV.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On January 18, the Department of Justice sent CPJ an unsealing order confirming that Hashemi is a material witness in a criminal proceeding and that she has not been charged with a crime. The order says Hashemi will be released following testimony at a grand jury.