A prominent American journalist for Iran’s state-television is being detained in the United States as a material witness, according to CNN.
Marzieh Hashemi, who has worked for the network’s English-language service for 25 years, was arrested on Jan. 20 at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Hashemi was in the process of filming a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in New Orleans when she was apprehended and taken to Washington, D.C. by authorities. According to The New York Times, she has been held for more than a week without charge in an unspecified criminal case where she appeared before a grand jury twice.
“We still have no idea what’s going on,” Hashemi’s eldest son, Hossein, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Washington, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Hashemi lives in Tehran, returning to the U.S. about once a year to see her family and usually scheduling documentary work while in the states.
The case is a new irritant in the midst of already tense relations between the U.S. and Iran. Hashemi was taken into custody a week after Iran acknowledged the confinement of U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White, who is also being held on unspecified charges.
Under U.S. law, witnesses can be arrested if the government can prove their testimony is “material to a criminal proceeding” along with the notion the witness may pose a flight risk.
The Swiss ambassador in Tehran has been called on to formally protest the arrest, demanding Hashemi’s release. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran have been represented by Switzerland since 1980.
Protests occurred a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif labeled the American authorities’ treatment of Hashemi as an act of racism.
“The U.S. government 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,” Zarif stated in a Twitter post. “50 years after [Martin Luther King’s] assassination, U.S. still violates the civil rights of black men and women.”