Marzieh Hashemi, the TV anchor on Iranian state television who was jailed Jan. 13 in the U.S., is a Black Muslim journalist born in the United States. Protesters demand to know exactly why she was detained by federal agents in St. Louis after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area.
On Friday, federal officials said she was jailed as a material witness but not charged with any crime, the Associated Press reported. But the government has released few other details.
Hashemai, who was born Melanie Franklin, usually returns to the U.S. from Iran at least once a year to visit family and to work on documentaries, her son said. She was detained during this most recent visit after filming a Black Lives Matter documentary.
It’s unclear to Hashemi’s family how long she will be held behind bars and the nature of the criminal case in which federal authorities named her as a witness for a grand jury hearing. Hashemai, 59, was appointed an attorney and has appeared twice in federal district court in Washington.
Many are calling her detention politically motivated. This comes against the backdrop of renewed hostility with Iran under the Trump administration. At the same time, Trump has shown a level of animosity for journalists that press freedom groups like the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist said is typically found in countries that lack press freedom like Iran.
Former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has demanded answers about Hashemi’s detention.
McKinney, who described Hashemi as a “sister” and “friend,” said the journalist told her own family members that officials have mistreated her in the prison facility.
“She described her hijab having had been removed against her will and that she is being treated as a criminal. The prison officials have also denied her access to halal or vegetarian dietary options for the past few days, only serving her meals with meat which she has refused to eat. She mentioned that she had only been able to eat Pretzels and bread,” McKinney said in a series of tweets posted on Jan. 15.
The authorities are permitted under federal law to detain witnesses if their testimony has high value for a criminal case and if that person would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena, according to the AP.