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Detained Iranian Journalist Hashemi Released; Protest Planned

The FBI released Marzieh Hashemi, 59, an American-born Iranian journalist from a 10-day detention in Washington, DC, as a material witness in a criminal matter before a grand jury.

Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin, was reunited with her family. Her lawyer, Abed Ayoub, said, “She is relieved that this is over, but the family is pretty angry and upset at the way that this happened.” She has yet to release a statement about her testimony, but she may not be able to because of something like a gag order.

The authorities have kept mum as to the details of her case; they did say she was held because she has dual citizenship and was considered a flight risk. Although it’s rare for the government to hold material witnesses, it is legal. Still, Hashemi’s family and friends were considerably alarmed and even outraged. 

Material Witness Law

Under US law a witness may be detained in view of securing his or her testimony.

Article 3144 on the Release or detention of a material witness reads:If it appears from an affidavit filed by a party that the testimony of a person is material in a criminal proceeding, and if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena, a judicial officer may order the arrest of the person and treat the person in accordance with the provisions of section 3142 of this title. No material witness may be detained because of inability to comply with any condition of release if the testimony of such witness can adequately be secured by deposition, and if further detention is not necessary to prevent a failure of justice. Release of a material witness may be delayed for a reasonable period of time until the deposition of the witness can be taken pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.”

Further Reaction to Hashemi’s Detention

While the Iranian Press TV news anchor is now free, her family, friends and colleagues are still reeling from the implications of her detention earlier this January. Many activists vowed to exert maximum pressure on the government to ensure that no other individual is swept up without an explanation or any other information regarding the whereabouts of the person.

A poster published on Facebook rather explicitly related activists’ determination to demand answers from a government and a legal system that, while operating within the confines of the law, used its power abruptly and high-handedly.

Screen Shot 2019 01 24 at 08.25.23

Facebook call for action—Marzieh Hashemi

Several protests are scheduled to take place this Friday (Jan. 25) in several cities across the United States and the world.

Now that Ms Hashemi is in a hotel in Washington, DC, it is not yet clear whether she will be allowed to return home to Iran, or whether she will be required to further testify before a grand jury. However, the original order to detain said she would be free once she completed her testimony.

The secrecy surrounding her case has incensed some of the public, leaving many to believe her arrest was politically motivated and an attempt to silence the independent press and a taunt directed at Iran. A US-born citizen, Ms Hashemi is also an Iranian national and prominent journalist.

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Broader Implications After Hashemi’s Detention and Worldwide Freedom of the Press 

Within the context of Hashemi’s incarceration some believe the US’s attitude toward the press leaves something to be desired and could actually qualify as violent and repressive.

A report by US Press Freedom Tracker, which included physical attacks on the press by private citizens, in December 2018 attests to that. It reads: “The journalistic landscape in the United States is volatile, and 2018 has been a harrowing year for press freedom. The Tracker has documented more than 100 press freedom incidents since January, from murders and physical attacks to stops at the border and legal orders.”

The organization has documented a total of 27 subpoena or legal order cases against journalists with 21 of those occurring in 2018. It writes: “It’s likely that many subpoenas are not reported, and many legal orders for journalists’ records are conducted with high levels of secrecy. Therefore, the number of legal order and subpoena cases counted by the Tracker are likely to be a severe undercount, making a straight comparison of the data between years sometimes difficult.”

And: 2018 also saw the first publicly known seizure by the Trump administration of a journalist’s communications records, when the Department of Justice seized years of New York Times reporter Ali Watkinsphone and email records as part of an investigation into her confidential sources. She was notified of this seizure after the fact, so she had no way to challenge the seizure in court.”

Article 19, a British-based organization dedicated to the defense of free speech, warned against the many and grave violations journalists around the globe have had to face as a result of governments’ strongman policies and heavy-handed tactics to enforce the media’s compliance.

Executive Director Thomas Hughes said on the matter: “Our data shows that freedom of expression has been in decline for 10 years and that this demise has accelerated significantly in the last three years…. This is a global phenomenon with many violations happening in countries where freedom of expression has traditionally been protected.”


Catherine Perez-Shakdam

Catherine is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former consultant to the UN Security Council on Yemen. Her work has been published in the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Express, Epoch Times and countless other media.

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