By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
A protest by Pakistani rights activists in Karachi and a Global Twitter Storm are part of the worldwide calls for the release of a prominent Black, female journalist detained in the United States without charges.
According to an order by Federal Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, Marzieh Hashemi was arrested on a material witness warrant, meaning she was presumed to have had information critical to the outcome of a case. She was appointed an attorney and has not been accused of any crime, said the authorities.
The 59-year-old, identified as Melanie Franklin in the unsealed document, is an American citizen from New Orleans, La., who lives in Tehran, Iran. She has worked for its state television network Press TV for 25 years.
The order indicates she’s expected to be released immediately following the completion of her testimony before a grand jury investigation of violations of U.S. criminal law. Ms. Hashemi was scheduled to be in court on Jan. 23 at Final Call presstime, but calls for her immediate release continued to escalate.
“I, on behalf of Karachi Union of Journalists, condemn this against the senior journalist by the U.S. law enforcement agencies, which is a clear violation of human rights and freedom of speech, and a shameful act by those who claim to be the champion of human rights in the whole world,” Faheem Siddiqui, the journalists group’s president, told a Press TV reporter in Karachi, Pakistan.
“The United States has always been criticized for its double standards and the case that you have talked about, it reflects this continuous policy of maintaining double standards when it comes to the human rights situation either in the United States or its allies,” Zohra Yosuf, former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told the network.
When Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested the mother and grandmother at an airport in St. Louis, Mo., on Jan. 13, they took her to Washington, D.C., where she was held in an unknown facility.
She came to the U.S. to visit her ill brother and work on her documentary about the anti-police brutality organization Black Lives Matter.
Her family found out 48 hours later when she was allowed to call them on Jan. 15, said her son, Hossein Hashemi, who was also scheduled to testify before the grand jury in Washington, D.C. His siblings have also been subpoenaed to testify.
On Jan. 20, family and supporters launched a Global Twitter Storm under the hashtag #FreeMarziehHashemi to raise awareness about her ordeal.
She seemed okay, but was upset about being treated as a criminal, said her son Hossein Hashemi after her children’s first contact with her since her arrest.
She had only eaten pretzels, because her dietary restrictions limited her from food served by the prison, including pork bologna sandwiches, he added. She was also upset that her hijab, or Islamic head covering, was removed during processing. She was later only able to cover her hair with a T-shirt apparently, he stated.
Her children, who include Sarah and Reza Hashemi, thanked the world community for support and media for exposure they say has been overwhelming and impactful.
In a subsequent call, they learned their mother’s overall conditions seemed okay but she seemed tired.
“The prison where she is being held is now making special arrangements for her food to be halal. They have also finally facilitated her requests regarding hijab. We do not think this would have been possible without media exposure and community pressure,” her children stated in a written statement.
A #FreeMarziehHashemi fundraiser on GoFundMe was trending Jan. 21. In four days, 573 people raised over $50,000, surpassing the $30,000 goal to pay for an attorney.
Now Ms. Hashemi’s children are advocating for the many Muslims in American prisons who need similar religious freedom accommodations but are ignored and who can’t afford qualified legal teams.
“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,” they stated.
The family feels the case goes beyond their mother and highlights the problem of bypassing the U.S. Constitution and imprisoning innocent people.
“This is highly problematic and can affect 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,” continued the Hashemi children.
Samantha Shero of the FBI’s Washington Field Office told The Final Call in a Jan. 18 email, “At this time, the FBI cannot provide any comment on the matter and there are no public documents available.” Further updates may be obtained from the Justice Department, she said.
“Honestly as sad a story as it is, I wasn’t surprised, because I have traveled with Marzieh before, in that same airport, by the way,” said Cynthia McKinney, human rights and political activist and former U.S. congresswoman.
“Now, here we are, just sisters traveling and Department of Homeland Security is called. The harassment begins. They put us through the biometric machine, and it was ridiculous! So I wasn’t surprised at all,” she told The Final Call.
America’s in a very stark time right now where the Constitution has been completely torn to shreds, and what’s happening to longtime friend Marzieh Hashemi is a clear example of that, added Ms. McKinney.
“What has happened to Marzieh, we need to take it and run with it because whatever the government says is an abject lie about whatever it is. I know Marzieh. … It’s 100 percent wrong and there’s no way that the government can justify what they’ve done,” she told The Final Call.
Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission told The Final Call the irony is people have been quite accustomed to the United States of America behaving badly toward human beings around the world, be it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or anywhere.
“Still, there was some sort of adhering to the Constitution of the United States as regard of safeguarding the right of American citizens, and this is why we end up with Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, because they were outside the jurisdiction of the U.S.,” said Mr. Shadjareh, referencing maximum security U.S. military prisons in Iraq and Cuba. “But now we see that American citizens are being sort of treated unlawfully and indeed journalists are being targeted,” he said.
“Yes! This is targeted,” said Ms. McKinney. The goal is to debase and steal Marzieh Hashemi’s dignity, but she is a very strong, aware, powerful Black woman, said the former federal lawmaker.
“They’re attacking her internal fortitude right now, but she’s a wonderful woman. She’s a mother and a grandmother and she’s a political activist and she’s a great friend to have,” said Ms. McKinney.
Yvette Baldacchino’s “U.S. Misuse of Material Witness Statute” petition launched on Jan. 19 has garnered so far 732 of the 1,000 signatures sought.
On Jan. 17, the International Federation of Journalists, which promotes international action to defend press freedom and social justice, expressed serious concerns, as did human rights activists like Efia Nwangaza, director of the Malcolm X Center for Self Determination in Greenville, S.C.
“We deplore her arrest, her kidnapping actually as an expression of hostility towards Blacks, women, Muslims, and the State of Iran by the U.S. government, and I don’t limit that to the Trump administration,” she said.
“It’s a call to action from all of us that we stand with her and stand against this bold, unbridled attack on Black women, Black media and media generally,” Ms. Nwangaza told The Final Call.
Sultan Rahman Muhammad, student national imam of the Nation of Islam, said the longtime journalist interviewed the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam during his recent trip in Tehran. That’s scheduled to be released shortly to the public by The Final Call, he said. Minister Farrakhan is very aware and concerned about the arrest, he said.
“We are with our sister, and want to know what she is being held for. They need to make that known or set her free … we have utmost concern for the care and treatment of our sister Marzieh Hashemi,” said Imam Rahman Muhammad.
Her arrest is really a testimony to the backdrop of the fever-pitch relationship between Nation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the U.S., he added.
Last November, President Donald Trump reinstated all U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been removed under a 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the European Union (EU) barring Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
“It really also is a reflection to the warning of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan about the United States government’s intent with the nation of Iran and our people as Muslims here in the West. We must not lose the reality that Sister Marzieh Hashemi is a Black woman who is a Muslim from New Orleans, and she in herself and personage represents a unification of Islam in America and Islam in the East,” stated Imam Rahman Muhammad.
Ms. Hashemi’s arrest comes as President Trump’s National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton is already leading the drumbeat of war, and plans for attacking Iran, so why would they do this at that time? asked Abdul Akbar Muhammad, international representative for Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
He thinks the government might be using her as a bargaining chip to trade for someone of interest to the U.S., who Iran may be holding. “The other thought that came to my mind, they want to put fear in those who have some relationship with Iran in the West, and if they would take a news reporter and stop her at the airport, then fly her to Washington and no one knows where she’s at in Washington and they haven’t charged her. In America we have laws that you can’t just detain a person but for so many hours or days. You have to charge them with something or either let them go,” he observed.
Min. Akbar Muhammad added, “But what makes it unique is that Marzieh is a Black, American woman who speaks Farsi fluently as well as English, and she’s a very perceptive and smart young lady in terms of news coverage.”
Mr. Shadjareh is pleased the huge mobilization for Marzieh Hashemi occurred in a very short time and goes far beyond the Muslim or even Black community. He sees extreme concern from journalists and all who want to preserve civil liberties. He wrote a letter Jan. 16 to the United Nations Committee of Arbitrary Retention expressing his concerns. Ms. Hashemi was initially detained on Jan. 13.
“I did highlight that this arrest in the nature and the way it has been done it stinks of injustice and discrimination and it needs to be investigated and the committee and the group needs to sort of be aware of this and actually follow it up to make sure indeed that there is no abuse of power taking place,” he said.