January 22, 2019

US - #WeeklyAddress: January 14 - 20: American-Iranian journalist Marzieh Hashemi arrested at St. Louis airport

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of January 14 - 20:

American-Iranian journalist Marzieh Hashemi arrested at St. Louis airport

Marzieh Hashemi, an American-Iranian reporter, was detained upon arrival at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on January 13. Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans, has lived in Iran since 1982, and has worked for the Iranian state-run television channel Press TV since 2008. The FBI declined to answer RSF’s questions about the reason for her arrest, referring queries to the Department of Justice press office. In an interview for Press TV on January 16, her son Hossein Hashemi said she had not been formally charged and was being held as a “material witness.” According to a court order to unseal information about her arrest, authorities expect Hashemi’s release after “her testimony before a grand jury investigating violations of U.S. criminal law.” For more on this incident, read RSF’s publication: “Iranian journalist held without charge in the US.


Attorney General nominee asked to comment on prosecuting journalists

Nominee for US Attorney General William Barr declined to guarantee protections for journalists in relation to leak investigations during his January 15 confirmation hearing.

When Senator Amy Klobuchar asked if Barr would “jail reporters for doing their jobs" he did not answer directly, but said he could “conceive of situations where as a last resort…[journalists] could be held in contempt.” During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified at the time that he could not “make a blanket commitment [to not prosecute journalists].” In the same hearing and then again in a House Judiciary Committee hearing in November of the same year, Sessions failed to promise protections for journalists, saying he would utilize the Constitution to prioritize national security. During his tenure, Sessions’ crackdown on leakers led to the prosecution of two whistleblowers, Reality Winner and Terry Albury, under the Espionage Act, and the Trump administration has indicted at least five journalists’ sources since he took office. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, should the administration continue this trend, it will be on track to far surpass the number of leakers prosecuted by former President Barack Obama’s administration.   


Virginia legislators introduce bills to strengthen protection of journalists

Two Virginia delegates introduced House Bills 2250 and 2382 on January 14 aimed at protecting student journalists from censorship and shielding reporters from having to disclose confidential sources. The bills are being introduced for the second time by delegates Chris Hurst and Danica Roem, former journalists from CBS-affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke and The Prince William Times, respectively. Hurst decided to run for office after his girlfriend and former co-worker Alison Parker was shot to death in 2015 alongside her cameraman during a live, on-air interview for Roanoke’s WDBJ7. “The whole point of the shield law is to protect reporters from being jailed for protecting confidential sources,” said Roem. Virginia is one of 10 other states that do not have shield protections for members of the press. There is also currently no such shield law at the federal level. In 2007, Vice President Mike Pence, then a congressman representing Indiana’s 6th district, was one of the original co-sponsors of legislation intended to implement a federal shield law. Unfortunately, the bill failed to make it through both houses of Congress.


The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.  


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