It took a solid week after her detention in St. Louis, but Marzieh Hashemi, an anchor for Iran’s PressTV and an American citizen, has finally gotten into a courtroom, and learned that she is neither being accused of any crimes nor is she facing any charges. That said, they’re not expecting to let her go any time soon.
Hashemi is being held as a witness for a grand jury. Federal law technically allows such detention if a judge is convinced the person might not testify willingly, though legal experts have noted this is a tactic that has faced little legal challenge in the past, and might not stand up to a serious case. Hashemi does not finally have an attorney.
The law that allows for these detentions is meant to be very limited in use, and very temporary, with the detainee supposed to be released immediately after they are deposed. It is unclear, however, when they actually intend to depose Ms. Hashemi, and the early impression is that the detention may take some time.
The court order on her detention is not revealing what she is being sought to testify upon, either. Reuters, however, quoted a US government source who claimed that the grand jury is investigating PressTV itself over charges that the station engages in “propaganda” and should be forced to register as an agent of a foreign government.
Under President Trump, the Justice Department has been keen to go after foreign media it views as unfriendly with this tactic. In late 2017, they forced Russia’s RT to register as a foreign agent. The administration was keen at the time to emphasize its hostility toward Russia, and now with the focus on Iran, it seems PressTV is facing the same tactic, with the detention of an American citizen involved with the channel just the latest escalation.
Press organizations have shown some criticism for the US detention of Hashemi, although many of them seem to feel the need to include a caveat that Iran has also detained journalists at times. This seems neither here nor there with regard to the Hashemi case, however, as the US Constitution nominally guarantees freedom of the press, and the detention of any journalist by the US government, particularly an open-ended detention without charges, is a troubling precedent that stands on its own.
Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.