Iranian TV anchor with LSU ties says U.S. jailed her as warning

YURI GRIPAS  REUTERS  Newscom

YURI GRIPAS REUTERS Newscom

Marzieh Hashemi, 59, was let go on Wednesday after being jailed for 10 days, according to Abed Ayoub, a lawyer with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Court papers had said she would be released immediately after her testimony before a grand jury but did not include details on the criminal case in which she was named a witness.

Members of her family said they had also been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, though it is unclear if they did so.

Born in New Orleans as Melanie Franklin, Hashemi changed her name after converting to Islam. Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that misusing material witness warrants is unconstitutional. However, federal judges now reserve the right to detain witnesses if a testimony is highly valuable and the person is suspected to be a flight risk.

The Justice Department had previously released two unsealed court orders.

A person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press news agency that Hashemi had fulfilled her obligation as a material witness and was released.

Muslim civil rights organizations have joined press freedom and other human rights groups in questioning the FBI's detention of an American-born journalist based in Iran.

Hashemi's detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal. Official reports say there are more than 240,000 prisoners in Iran. She lives in Tehran and returns to the United States about once a year to see her family and work on documentaries.

Hossein Hashemi, from Denver, son of American-born news anchor Marzieh Hashemi, speaks during an interview.

Hashemi was detained by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in St. Louis, Missouri, earlier this month, en route to Denver, Colorado, to visit family.

Hashemi sent a message to supporters on Thursday after her release.

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Supporters of Marzieh Hashemi demonstrate in Washington.

The next day, she appeared before a judge and was told she was being held as a material witness.

"I have a lot of things to say about what I have suffered", she said in Farsi.

Hashemi said she believes she was detained "because of my belief system, because of who I am". "That's a big part of it", she said.

Hashemi appeared before a US grand jury Wednesday in Washington. She said prosecutors appeared to only have "circumstantial" evidence in the case and did not have "anything of any concrete importance".

"Law enforcement officials must clarify why they are holding Ms. Hashemi without formal charges and why they have allegedly denied her religious rights while in custody", Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement. She was offered a white T-shirt to put on her head.

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment. He also expressed that the family was unable to contact Hashemi. She has not been charged with a crime.

"This is not the United States that we want".

Federal law does permit the government to compel testimony in certain circumstances by arresting and detaining witnesses. In those cases, the median period of time the witnesses were detained was 26 days.

"The misbehavior of the U.S. government indicates that the USA does not abide by any principles protecting rights of those criticizing the system and is now turned to a unsafe country for reporters".

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