Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Treatment of Black Muslim Journalist is Lawless, Dangerous

For the first time in my 60-year career as a journalist (counting school days), something in the news frightened me. It was the kidnapping and detention of Marzieh Hashemi, a U.S.-born Iranian TV journalist.

Even though she was never charged with a crime, Hashemi was detained, often shackled by federal authorities for 10 days because, she insists, the U.S. government wants to intimidate her and those who would support her. Hashemi was released from federal custody Jan. 23, but she remained defiant days later, urging her supporters to fight on. Fight on!

A news anchor for Iran’s English-language Press TV, she had been held in jail to force her to testify before a federal grand jury in Washington.

Me, I’ve been in some tense international standoffs around the world—crossing the border from Syria into Iraq by climbing over a seven-foot-high dirt mound and ditch; crossing from Iraq to Iran with guns pointed at us from both sides. I’ve been to the anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, in the midst of 2 million people chanting “Death to America.”

I’ve been to Maiduguri and Kano in Nigeria, the seat of the Boko Haram rebellion. And I’ve fraternized with many of this country’s Third World adversaries.

I’ve been to Yemen, where the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today is taking place, and where airplanes must depart before 10 a.m. every day because temperatures quickly reach 105 degrees daily, and vapor locks can easily occur in jet engines, grounding the aircraft. I’ve traveled often to Libya, even to the private desert compound of that country’s then-leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

I’ve been to Cuba on multiple occasions and even once met President Fidel Castro. I met PLO President Yasser Arafat at the United Nations in 1974, and again in Palestine in 1997. I met Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

But I’ve never been afraid until Hashemi was arrested and detained in shackles for 10 days, without even being charged with a crime. It suddenly occurred to me that the same thing — or worse — could happen to me at any minute.

“As you know, I made the call for everyone to continue to come out today even though I gained my freedom a couple of days ago and the reason was and is as I’ve been saying in various interviews, is that this is not about managed to get harsh on me,” Hashemi told supporters Jan. 25 at a rally outside the courtroom where she testified earlier that week. “This is the U.S. government thinking that they can do this to anyone at any time without facing any ramifications Make no mistake. They can call it whatever they want to call it, but I was kidnapped.”

Her arrest, she said, is linked to her tireless reporting about racial and anti-Islamic bias throughout the U.S. society. But she remained steadfast.

“We will not be intimidated,” she said. “We will not back off the truth, no matter the price.”

I stand in solidarity with Marzieh Hashemi.

Journalists for other foreign, state-run media outlets should be concerned, she warned, describing her treatment as an attempt by the U.S. government to intimidate her news outlet because it airs opposing views. She was not accused of any crime. Chilling.

“I was kidnapped, make no mistake, it can be called whatever they want to call it, but I was kidnapped from the St. Louis Airport,” Hashemi said at the rally. “You can disappear. You can be made to disappear very easily and the case can be sealed and so there’s no way that you can find out because of national security.

“I want them to know and I thank all of you also, that we can not be intimidated, that we will not back off from the truth, no matter the price, no matter the price,” she said. “I don’t know how long we’re going to tolerate this kind of injustice. They can say that it is legal, but I know all freedom loving people around the world know that illegally detaining, I will say kidnapping, transferring, shackling, imprisoning, taking off my headscarf and so many other things. They can call it legal but we know that it is not legal.

“So if I’m not charged with a crime, then God help those who are charged with crimes, brothers and sisters,” Hashemi said.

For myself, I’ve never been charged with a crime, but who knows? Innocent journalists — especially Muslims who are Black, especially those friendly to this country’s adversaries — seem to be in the crosshairs. I could be next.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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