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Iran summons Swiss envoy over US arrest of Press TV journalist

Tehran tells Swiss ambassador, who handles US interests in Iran, that detention of Marzieh Hashemi in US is 'inhuman and discriminatory'
Iranians hold banners bearing messages that call for the release of US-born journalist Marzieh Hashemi, in front of the Swiss embassy in the capital Tehran (AFP)

Iran's foreign ministry has summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran to demand the unconditional and immediate release of a state television journalist detained in the United States.

Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said a note of complaint was issued to the ambassador for Switzerland at a meeting on Tueday over the "inhuman and discriminatory" detention of Iranian citizen and Press TV reporter Marzieh Hashemi.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles US interests in Iran after the two countries broke off relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"Her immediate and unconditional release was demanded" at the meeting with the ambassador, Ghasemi added.

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US-born Hashemi, who works for Iran's English-language Press TV, was arrested on arrival at St Louis Lambert International Airport on 13 January, according to family and friends cited by Press TV.

Press TV said that Hashemi had gone to the US to visit her terminally ill brother and also claimed that US officials had prevented her from wearing her hijab and had offered only pork, prohibited in Islam, as a meal.

Middle East Eye could not independently verify these claims. 

A US court on Friday confirmed the arrest, saying her testimony was required over an unspecified case but that she was not accused of a crime.

At a hearing in Washington, a judge ordered the partial unsealing of an order on Hashemi, a Muslim convert who changed her name from Melanie Franklin.

The court said Hashemi was arrested on "a material arrest warrant" and would be let go after she gave testimony to a grand jury investigating unspecified "violations of US criminal law".

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday that the US needed to elaborate on its accusations.

"The US govt needs to explain how Marzieh Hashemi - a journalist and grandmother - is such a flight risk that she must be incarcerated until she finishes her testimony to a grand jury," he wrote.

"50 years after MLK assassination, US still violates the civil rights of black men and women."

'Freedom of speech'

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, expressed worry on Friday over Hashemi's case.

"We are concerned by the arrest of a journalist for Iranian state TV, Marzieh Hashemi, and call on the US Department of Justice to immediately disclose the basis for her detention for the past five days," CPJ's North America programme coordinator, Alexandra Ellerbeck, said in a statement.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) also called on US government agencies to explain the reasons behind Hashemi's detention.

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"Law enforcement officials must clarify why they are holding Ms Hashemi without formal charges... There can be no justification for denying an American citizen, or any other person, their basic civil and religious rights," CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), an advocacy group that promotes diplomacy with Iran, urged Washington to respect freedom of the press in Hashemi's case.

"NIAC has consistently condemned the Iranian government's shameful track record of politically motivated detentions – including arbitrarily arresting dual citizens, holding them on spurious charges, subjecting them to cruel conditions, and using them as bargaining chips in negotiations," the group's president, Jamal Abdi, said in a news release on Wednesday. 

"It is absolutely critical that the US government not follow suit and instead observe the core values of freedom of speech and freedom of the press."