Marzieh Hashemi was reportedly detained at St. Louis International Airport Jan. 14 and taken to a Washington, DC, facility by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Press TV, citing family and friends. The FBI has yet to comment on the story. But Press TV says it has learned that its 59-year-old anchor was denied contact to her family members for 48 hours. She has recounted different forms of "mistreatment" such as being handcuffed and shackled, forced to remove her hijab, offered only pork — which is forbidden in Islam — and photographed without a headscarf.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry was quick to condemn the arrest, demanding the journalist's immediate and unconditional release. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi slammed the US government for what he called an apartheid-style treatment of non-white citizens, referring to Hashemi’s African-American background. "The United States has turned into a dangerous country for journalists," he concluded.
Press TV's CEO Peyman Jebelli separately warned that the US government will be held responsible for the health of the anchor, who he described as a "serious critic" of "evil" US policies. The TV host is known among viewers for her attacks against perceived racial profiling by the US government as well as discrimination against American Muslims.
On social media, Hashemi's infuriated supporters questioned the US government's approach toward freedom of speech. "Is this the human right[s]" the Americans promote? tweeted one user with the hashtag #FreeMarziehHashemi, while another referred to the arrest as an abduction.
Born Melanie Franklin, the Muslim convert from New Orleans moved to Iran after being inspired by the ideology of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In Iran, Hashemi has been actively involved in political and religious circles, including Shiite mourning ceremonies held on the martyrdom anniversaries of Shiite imams. Last year, she participated in the annual pilgrimage to the Iraqi city of Karbala, which houses the shrine of the third Shiite Imam, Hussein ibn Ali. The march draws millions of Iranians each year.
In 2009, she produced a controversial documentary for the Iranian state broadcaster on the death of a female Iranian protester in the aftermath of the country's disputed presidential elections that year. Contradicting what was reported by mainstream Western media outlets, the documentary argued that Neda Agha Soltan was not killed at the hands of security forces.
Iran itself has a history of detaining journalists — including US citizens — on its soil over various security charges. It remains to be seen on what grounds Hashemi has reportedly been detained. The news of her arrest comes only one week after Iranian authorities confirmed that US navy veteran Michael White is being held in a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
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