Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor with Press TV and a U.S. citizen, was suddenly detained by U.S. officials in St. Louis airport on Sunday, 13 January while visiting her birth country to visit family and gather information for a documentary project on the Black Lives Matter movement. Hashemi, 59, is a Press TV anchor who has interviewed a number of Palestine solidarity activists and organizers for programs on the Iranian English-language channel highlighting struggles in occupied Palestine. Learn more about the #FreeMarziehHashemi TwitterStorm on Sunday, 20 January.
She is a mother of three and a grandmother of three. Initial reports indicated that Hashemi, who has lived between Iran and Colorado since 2009, was initially forcibly stripped of her hijab and denied access to halal food by her captors. Others have noted that she could be detained in an attempt at some form of leverage by the U.S. government regarding Americans imprisoned in Iran, often on espionage charges. Hashemi had not been contacted by government agencies or questioned prior to her sudden detention, although her family members noted that she is frequently harassed, searched and questioned at length when traveling through American airports.
Hashemi was held incommunicado for two days before finally contacting her family on Tuesday night, 15 January. Reports later indicated that Hashemi was being held as a material witness for an unspecified grand jury hearing taking place in Washington, D.C. The material witness statute gives government officials extensive powers to detain and imprison people who are neither suspected nor charged of committing any crime, as in Hashemi’s case. Of course, grand juries are often used as a means of investigating and extracting information about social movements, because there are fewer restrictions on grand jury procedures in comparison to traditional trials. In addition, people may be granted immunity (even against their will) and compelled to testify before a grand jury at the risk of being imprisoned for contempt of court if they refuse.
Abuse of the grand jury system has been used on multiple occasions to attack Palestinian and solidarity organizers in the United States. For example, 23 activists were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in the “Midwest 23” case. Homes of multiple activists were raided, their papers confiscated, their computers seized, in these attacks targeting Palestine solidarity and anti-war activists across the country. All 23 activists refused to appear before the grand jury, and no charges were ever filed in the case; however, the infiltration and attacks were later connected to the deportation of Rasmea Odeh, longtime Palestinian community leader in Chicago, former political prisoner and torture survivor.
In addition, several of the most infamous cases of repression against the Palestinian community also centered on grand jury investigations. Muhammad Salah, a former Palestinian political prisoner living in Chicago, won a major political and legal victory over attempts to name him as a “Specially Designated Terrorist” despite the fact that he was a U.S. citizen. The attack on Salah continued, however, including attempts to imprison him and force him to testify before a grand jury investigating Palestinian and Muslim community organizing. Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar was acquitted of substantive charges against him, but served 11 years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury similarly digging into community groups.
Sami al-Arian also won a major political and legal victory in his case, when he and several others were accused of “material support for terrorism” – ie, Palestinian liberation. Several co-defendants were acquitted, while Al-Arian was acquitted on 8 of 17, facing a hung jury on the other counts, strongly favoring acquittal. However, Al-Arian’s persecution did not end there. He agreed to a guilty plea to one count to end the case; after being sentenced to 57 months in prison, he then was subpoenaed to four separate grand juries investigating community activism. He was held under house arrest even after his released and threatened with lengthy sentences for contempt of court. Al-Arian was finally deported to Turkey in 2015 after nearly two decades of surveillance, investigations, trials and imprisonment.
Hashemi’s children have launched a Facebook page to advocate for their mother’s immediate release. They issued a statement urging not only support for their mother, but challenging the laws that make her detention possible:
“Alhamdulillah our mother has access and exposure, but there are unfortunately many Muslims in American prisons who need similar accommodations that are never arranged for them. Many Muslims in American prisons who do not, and cannot afford the most qualified legal teams. Our main worry should be with them.
They are invisible, and may go years without their religious requests taken seriously by anyone. Perhaps our mother’s imprisonment will bring exposure to these less known members of our community, and encourage on the ground activism to ensure the rights of these brothers and sisters.
We are all responsible for their wellbeing. These are the people that our mother speaks to us about most often, and tells us not to forget them, not to ignore them.
For us; Hossein, Sarah, and Reza Hashemi, this is not just about our mother. Her case highlights a larger constitutionally legitimized process by way of which people who have not committed a crime can be put in prison through legal means. They can be kept in prison for an indefinite period of time, and all of this is deemed legal and legitimate under U.S. law. This is highly problematic and can effect any one of us at any time.
We believe that it is imperative, especially for marginalized people in the United States of America to understand these controversial laws pertaining to being a “material witness” and other laws that can lead to our detention even if we have done nothing wrong.
We echo the voice of many legal and rights advocacy groups in the United States that find the constitutionality of these laws highly problematic, and, moving forward, we intend to assist organizations that are challenging this legal loophole.”
Hashemi’s family has called for a Twitter storm on Sunday, 20 January. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges people to participate in the social media action (below) and take action to free Marzieh Hashemi. We will continue to update and share actions in support of Marzieh Hashemi and other political prisoners in U.S. jails.
From the Facebook page for the action: Sunday, January 20th at 12pm (EST) to call for the release of Ms. Marzieh Hashemi.
Marzieh Hashemi is a grandmother, mother, an African-American Muslim journalist who has been in the United States, visiting family including her ailing brother and her grandchildren.
On Sunday 13th January she was taking an internal flight from St Louis airport to Denver when she was unjustly detained and transferred to a Washington DC facility by the FBI. She hasn’t been charged of anything and the reason for her detainment hasn’t been made clear.
Marzieh was born in the United States and is an American citizen. She is a Journalism graduate from Louisiana State University. She has been a journalist for several decades. In recent years she has been living in Iran for work as a journalist and often travels home to the United States to visit family and friends.
A phone call to a family member on Tuesday 15th January, Marzieh described that her hijab was removed against her will and she was forced to take a mug shot without her hijab on. She was given short-sleeved clothing that does not comply with her religious dress code and she was forced to wrap a t-shirt on her hair as a temporary head-covering. The police had refused to give her halal or vegetarian meals, effectively denying her food and meaning she has only been able to eat a little bread since being detained.
THESE ARE HUMAN RIGHT ABUSES. WE CAN NOT ALLOW THE FBI OR ANY GOVERNMENT BODY TO INFRINGE ON ANY ONE PERSON INDIVIDUALS HUMAN RIGHTS.
THIS IS INJUSTICE AND WE CALL ACTION AGAINST IT.
We believe in the POWER OF THE PEOPLE. Help up create a Twitter Storm using the hashtag #FreeMarziehHashemi this Sunday at 12 PM (EST)
Today it is Ms. Marzieh who is being unjustly detained and violated, tomorrow it could be you or someone you love.
The #FreeMarziehHashemi Team