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US confirms detention of journalist working for Iran's Press TV

Marzieh Hashemi not facing any legal charges herself, but is being detained as material witness, US court documents show
US government accused of abusing "material witness" statute to detain people without charges (AFP)

Authorities in the United States have confirmed the detention of a journalist working for Iranian state television, Reuters reported on Friday.

Marzieh Hashemi, an American citizen who works as an anchor for Iran's English-language Press TV channel, has been held since Sunday, when she tried to leave the US and return to Iran.

According to a US federal court order issued on Friday, Hashemi is not facing any legal charges herself, but is being detained as a material witness to testify in an ongoing criminal case, Reuters said.

US District Judge Beryl Howell issued the order, the first official US confirmation of reports of the arrest, at the request of the Justice Department, the news agency reported.

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Hashemi, who is African-American, changed her name from Melanie Franklin after converting to Islam. She has worked for Iranian state television for 25 years, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Since news of her detention broke, rights groups have called on the US government to release details behind the journalist's arrest.

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, the US government was accused of abusing the "material witness" statute to detain people without charges or due process.

Calls for clarification 

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.

"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."