Iranian TV anchor held as witness freed from US jail

Press TV journalist Marzieh Hashemi, a US national, released after 10-day detention in Washington.

    Dozens of activists protested outside a court in Washington for Hashemi's release [Mark Wilson/Getty]
    Dozens of activists protested outside a court in Washington for Hashemi's release [Mark Wilson/Getty]

    A prominent American-born anchor on Iranian state television who was held in the United States as a material witness has been released from a Washington jail.

    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.

    Hashemi, who works for the Press TV network's English-language service, was detained by federal agents on January 13 in St Louis, Missouri, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area, her son said. She was then transported to Washington and had remained behind bars since then.

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    Hashemi is a US citizen and was born Melanie Franklin. She lives in Tehran and comes back to the US about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work in the country.

    Her son, Hossein Hashemi, didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday.

    Obligation fulfilled

    Hashemi appeared at least twice before a US district judge in Washington and court papers said she would be released immediately after her testimony before a grand jury. Court documents did not include details on the criminal case in which she was named a witness.

    Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be detained if the government can prove that their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.

    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. The person was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Seeking answers

    Press TV reported Hashemi was prevented from observing her Islamic faith and wearing her headscarf. 

    It issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, "Marzieh Hashemi and her family will not allow this to be swept under the carpet. They still have serious grievances and want answers as to how this was allowed to happen. They want assurances that this won't happen to any Muslim - or any other person - ever again."

    Hashemi will remain in Washington for a protest on Friday, Press TV said in their statement.

    The journalist's detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal. Iran also faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties.

    Earlier on Wednesday, dozens of activists protested outside a federal court in Washington, where
    Hashemi was scheduled to appear before the grand jury.

    They held signs and chanted, "Free, free, Marzieh!" and "Shame, shame, USA!"

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies