Marzieh Hashemi, a prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television, has been arrested by the FBI during a visit to the U.S., with her son claiming she was being held in a prison, apparently as a material witness, AP/ABC News reported.
Hashemi, who worked for the network’s English-language service, was detained in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area.
According to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi, she was then taken to Washington. The FBI stated it had no comment on the arrest of the woman who was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans and has worked for Iran’s state television network for 25 years.
Hashemi’s son said his mother lives in Tehran and comes back to this country about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work somewhere in the U.S. as well.
“We still have no idea what’s going on,” said Hashemi, a research fellow at the University of Colorado who was interviewed by phone from Washington. Hashemi also added that he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
The incident comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties, with those cases having previously been used as bargaining chips in negotiations with world powers.
Federal law allows judges to 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, ABC News added.
Marzieh Hashemi, an American citizen, had not been contacted by the FBI before she was detained and would “absolutely” have been willing to cooperate with the agency, her son said. Her son said his mother was arrested as she was about to board a flight from St. Louis to Denver.
She apparently was unable to call her daughter until Tuesday night, and the family is trying to hire an attorney, but it has been difficult because she has not been charged with a crime, her son said.
Hashemi describes herself online as having studied journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She converted to Islam in 1982 at age 22 after meeting Iranian activist students in Denver.
ABC News adds that at least four American citizens are being held in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his 82-year-old father, Baquer, both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 year in prison.