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United States of Oppression? US Detains Iranian-American TV Anchor For Unknown Reason

“I’m very concerned. There’s no way of getting any word to her and she can’t send any out, apparently. We’re all in the dark and just waiting and praying that they release her.”

News broke this Tuesday of the arrest of prominent US-born Iranian TV anchor, Marzieh Hashemi, 59, also known as Melanie Franklin, following her arrival at St. Louis airport on Jan. 14 after filming a documentary on Black Lives Matter. Hashemi, who converted to Islam in the early 1970s and subsequently moved to Iran with her husband to pursue her career in journalism, has long been an outspoken defender of civil liberties and human rights

A report published in Sky News reads: “Ms Hashemi, who has worked for Iran’s English-language service Press TV for 25 years, was arrested alongside her son, Reza, at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Sunday.”

The FBI has so far refused to speak to the press, not even to confirm her arrest and subsequent detention without charge. Press TV says she is denied Halal food, Islam’s dietary laws. 

Her criticism of the hostilities and disdain between Saudi Arabia and Israel attracted millions of followers to her work, firmly establishing her as a media giant both in Iran and abroad.

Today she stands shackled in a US detention center, cut off from her family and friends, and perhaps legal representation, with no charges against her as far as anyone knows.

Hashemi is very popular in Iran for the many causes she helped bring to light, from the plight of Yemen’s children in the Saudi Arabia/Yemen war to that of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and police brutality in the United States.

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Hashemi has been a constant reminder in Iran that freedom and justice are both a right and a responsibility to preserve by holding ourselves and our respective governments to the highest standards of accountability and scrutiny. And although many may differ with her views, or even the life choices, she made by electing Iran as her new home and Shia Islam as her faith, to deny her of her choices, preferences, and beliefs is to deny all of ours without hope of redemption.

There is something to be said about the many attacks governments have run against freedom of expression and free speech and how such rights should not suffer the limitations of any caveats but should instead stand inalienable and uncontested. Once upon a time America held to such noble principles; today it wields its security apparatus as a weapon against them, so that all would learn to speak not pluralism but the accepted ‘consensus’.

Caleb Maupin, a journalist with RT, Russia’s official TV aimed at those outside Russia, says, “Marzieh’s arrest is an attack on independent media.”

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Caleb Maupin speaks against arrest of Marzieh Hashemi

Family Statement

Milton Leroy Franklin, Hashemi’s brother, who lives in New Orleans, told Associated Press he knows only what his niece has put on Facebook, since the FBI has allowed no contact beyond one phone call to her family. The Press TV statement quotes Hashemi as saying she is being treated harshly

“We don’t have any detailed information except she’s being held. And her son is being held in a hotel in (Washington), and she’s being held in some form of prison or incarcerated area,” Franklin said.

“I’m very concerned. There’s no way of getting any word to her and she can’t send any out, apparently. We’re all in the dark and just waiting and praying that they release her.”

Her son Hussein, a research fellow at the University of Colorado, said, We still have no idea whats going on. My siblings and I also have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. We dont know what this is about or how its unfolding.

The Iranians have detained four US citizens.

No other facts are known at this time.

Are There Still Democracies?

Marzieh Hashemi’s detention by the US must follow international due process. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

By virtue of the Constitution of the United States of America none should suffer any infringement to his or her freedom under the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which respect an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

And yet Marzieh Hashemi, a US citizen, is being detained without charges as far as anyone knows. Such a flagrant violation of a person’s rights does not seem to command much media attention.

One’s right to speak up and speak out cannot be tethered to a state’s political preferences or inclinations. Without conflicting opinions any democracy will quickly devolve into authoritarianism. George Orwell called it in 1984; we may wish to pay attention if not to wake up one day and realize we have been locked out of our democratic states.

If Hashemi’s choice of residence, Iran, and her faith have led to her treatment by the authorities, we should keep in mind that history is not kind to those who would imprison large groups of people for who they are.

America’s democratic mettle lies within its ability to abide by the rule of law, including its commitment to the principles enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How else can one distinguish a democratic state from a brutal regime commissioning the murder of its nationals on foreign ground if not by its ability to exact justice?

The very real question behind Marzieh’s arrest is why the FBI remains mum on the reasons. What do they have to hide?


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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