Iranian broadcaster Press TV’s anchorwoman, son arrested in US

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ISTANBUL
Published 25.01.2019 11:52
Paiman Jebeli, world service chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and head of its 24-hour English and French language news network Press TV, speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on Jan. 16, 2019. (AFP Photo)
Paiman Jebeli, world service chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and head of its 24-hour English and French language news network Press TV, speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on Jan. 16, 2019. (AFP Photo)

A prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television's English-language service has been arrested after flying into the U.S., the broadcaster reported Wednesday. U.S. law enforcement agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The reported detention of Press TV's Marzieh Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin of New Orleans, comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual nationals and others with Western ties, previously used as bargaining chips in negotiations with world powers.

Iran's state broadcaster held a news conference and launched a hashtag campaign for Hashemi, using the same techniques families with loved ones held in the Islamic Republic use to highlight their cases.

"We will not spare any legal action" to help her, said Paiman Jebeli, deputy chief of Iran's state IRIB broadcaster.

Press TV said Hashemi, who has worked at the state broadcaster service for 25 years, had been arrested after arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Sunday. Jebeli alleged that her son, Reza Hashemi, had been arrested as well.

"As we know the US, especially on combatting terrorism, can arrest anyone with no charges and detain them for weeks. We believe legal action would not be effective for her freedom," Jebeli told reporters in Tehran.

"We call on the U.S. to explain her charges," he said. "This is a scandal for so-called U.S. democracy."

Jebeli said she may have been targeted over documentaries she made about U.S. activities in the Middle East, Islamophobia and other issues.

The broadcaster said Hashemi had been visiting "her ill brother and other family members."

Jebeli said all she had been offered to eat was pork, religiously forbidden for Muslims.

He said her son, Reza Hashemi, had also been arrested but was not in detention while he awaited trial, though he did not specify the charges.

Jeff Lea, a spokesman for St. Louis Lambert International Airport, didn't immediately return phone or email messages from The Associated Press. Rebecca Wu, St. Louis' FBI spokeswoman, directed questions to the press office at FBI headquarters.

A call to FBI headquarters rang unanswered early Wednesday morning. The bureau also did not immediately respond to a written request for comment. Several local jails around Washington that house federal inmates also said they did not have her in custody.

Last week, Iran confirmed it is holding U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White at a prison in the country, making him the first American known to be detained under President Donald Trump's administration.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state TV that Hashemi's arrest indicates the "apartheid and racist policy" of the Trump administration.

"We hope that the innocent person will be released without any condition," Ghasemi said.

There are four other known American citizens 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.

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance. Tehran now says it has no information about him.

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