'Mistreated in prison, family kept in the dark' – ex-colleague of detained Iranian journalist to RT
US-born journalist Marzieh Hashemi had her religious rights violated in jail, where she was put shortly after coming to the US from Iran, her representative has told RT. Her family, meanwhile, has received no answers from the FBI.
Nargess Moballeghi, an independent journalist and former colleague of Hashemi, who was detained by US federal agents in St. Louis on Sunday, told RT that the 59-year-old's family has been kept in the dark by the US authorities about the cause of their mother and grandmother's detention.
Hashemi is a US citizen who was born in New Orleans into a Christian African-American family. She converted to Islam in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution and has gained recognition for anchoring programs on Press TV, an English-language Iranian network.
Hashemi was detained as a material witness by the FBI as she was about to board an internal US flight from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis to Denver, meaning that when the FBI swooped down on her, she had already crossed the US border, Moballeghi told RT, speaking on Hashemi’s behalf.
'Very many questions, very few answers'
While her case instantly hit international headlines, little to nothing is known about the reason for her abrupt detention as the FBI withholds any information. Moballeghi said that the journalist's family was not given details by the US authorities either. The only information they have is that Hashemi was detained as a material witness in some unspecified case. Her children, who all live in the US, have also been subpoenaed and "have no idea why," said Moballeghi, who is keeping contact with Hashemi's family. It was initially reported that Hashemi was to face court on Friday, but even that is not clear now.
"The family were told there would be a hearing on Friday and that was backtracked. It's not clear if there would be a hearing today. The children have been subpoenaed. One of the sons was set to appear but then was told that it was a closed court.
"The picture at the moment is rather confusing. There are very many questions and very little answers."Also on rt.com Iranian PressTV journalist held by FBI, denied halal food, hijab removed against her will – network
Moballeghi said that the family only spoke to Hashemi once, in a call on Tuesday, and is unaware where exactly she has been kept. They told her that Hashemi "would have been cooperative" with the FBI and don't understand why she had to be manhandled.
'Hijab forcibly removed, no halal food'
As Hashemi is being kept in custody without any charges, her religious rights have reportedly been completely disregarded by the prison authorities.
"Marzieh told her daughter that she had her hijab taken off against her will, her mugshot was taken without her hijab on, that she was given only a short-sleeved T-shirt in contravention to her own Islamic dress code that she wears and that she had to gain another T-shirt just to be able to cover her hair," Moballeghi said.
In addition to that, no halal or vegetarian food was made available to the journalist so she had to eat "crackers and some bread" that came with the standard prison food.
"As you can imagine, her children are very concerned not just about what seems like civilian religious rights violations, they are also worried about her health," Moballeghi said, noting that Hashemi had known health issues, such as heart palpitations, and must take medication and had fainted before when she skipped meals.
'Would be 'very worrying' if BLM documentary is the issue'
There has been speculation that Hashemi was taken in for questioning in connection with a documentary about the Black Lives Matter she was allegedly working on. If that rumor turns out to be true, it would be very troubling, Moballeghi said.
"How very worrying if covering a story like Black Lives Matter would lead to this kind of detention. This leads to a lot of questions. Is it now the new norm in America? Is this politically motivated?"
While refusing to speculate on the legal grounds for Hashemi's detention, Moballeghi said that the US is "facing unprecedented times under Trump" who has declared open season on journalists with his constant attacks on the media.
"There is something very dark going in the US at the moment. This is Islamophobia. This is anti-Iran sentiment. This is anti-media and anti-journalists sentiment."
AP reported on Friday, citing partially unsealed court papers in Hashemi's case, that the journalist has not been charged with any crime and is bound to be released as soon as she gives her testimony. However, it is still unclear when that is going to happen. The records revealed that she had already appeared twice before a US judge. No details have been released about the case on which she is supposed to testify. Her son, speaking outside the courthouse on Friday, said that it "doesn't look like" the journalist would be released by the end of the week.
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