NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans-born anchorwoman for Iranian state TV has been detained by the FBI for more than four days without being charged or given a court hearing, leaving her family in Metairie and Colorado confused and upset.
Marzieh Hashemi, 59, is not well-known in the U.S., but she is a popular news anchor in Iran for the state-run English language station there, Press TV, The Associated Press reports. Raised in a Christian family with the name Melanie Franklin, Hashemi was considered a trailblazer as a black woman graduating in journalism from LSU in 1982.
A former classmate of hers, Baton Rouge radio talk show host Jim Engster, said they were in school together during the Iranian revolution of 1979 and there were many Iranian students there.
That’s what inspired her to convert to Islam and move to Iran, her family said. She became an Iranian citizen and made public statements supporting the Islamic revolution, but she has also maintained her U.S. citizenship.
“I didn’t know her well, but I knew her,” Engster told WWL-TV. “I didn’t have any idea that she would become an Iranian citizen. No indication certainly that we’d end up here.”
Now her American family worries she’s become a pawn in escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which has also been arresting dual citizens there.
Hashemi had been in New Orleans visiting her brother, Milton Franklin, in Metairie. Hashemi then went to St. Louis to film a documentary on the Black Lives Matter movement, The AP reported.
Her son, Hossein Hashemi-Niasari, who lives in Colorado, told The AP his mother was arrested Sunday at the St. Louis airport as she prepared to fly to Denver, and the FBI took her to Washington on a material witness warrant.
“There weren't any charges that were mentioned at that time or after that,” Hashemi-Niasari told The AP. “So, apparently she is clear of charges but she is currently in prison. She has an inmate number. She is behind bars. So, we are curious about why that is and how that works."
Contacted by phone Thursday, Hashemi’s sister-in-law told WWL-TV the family didn’t understand why she was still being held.
Hashemi-Niasari told The AP that his mother visits her U.S. family often and has been harassed by authorities in airports for over a decade. But this time, he said his mother is being told she’s a witness in some unknown FBI investigation. Hashemi-Niasari also said he and his siblings received grand jury subpoenas, but don’t know why.
Material witness warrants can be used to arrest people if they are witnesses to a crime and are likely to flee, but they are supposed to be granted a bond hearing and a court-appointed attorney under federal law. There is no indication in federal court records of any case against Hashemi.
The FBI declined to comment to WWL-TV.