US Navy veteran held in Iran charged with national security crime

Michael White’s is the first US citizen to be detained since Donald Trump came to office

Borzou Daragahi
International Correspondent
Monday 11 March 2019 19:35 GMT
A demonstrator holds an anti-U.S. placard during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran.
A demonstrator holds an anti-U.S. placard during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

A US Navy veteran held in Iran has been charged with a national security crime, the spokesman for the country’s judiciary chief told reporters on Monday in a case that could worsen already frayed relations between Washington and Tehran.

Michael White, a 47-year-old US citizen and California resident, had been traveling to the northeastern city of Mashhad to pursue a romantic relationship with an Iranian woman. He was arrested by security forces in the city last July.

Gholamali Sadeghi, the Mashhad prosecutor, told a reporter for the ISNA news agency on Monday that "a verdict for this case has been issued,” adding that Mr White had been indicted on security charges as well as a complaint filed by an individual.

He gave no other details as he spoke along the sidelines of the induction ceremony for new judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who was roundly defeated by the pragmatist president Hassan Rouhani in 2015 presidential elections.

Mr Sadeghi's reference to security offences contradicts a 23 February claim by Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Panahi-Azar that White's case was unrelated to security matters.

Mr White’s detention – the first of a US citizen since Mr Trump came to office – and upped tensions with Iran, was first publicised in January, when his family spoke to the New York Times.

The jailed American is a cancer survivor, and his family fears that the disease may have resurfaced. “We think that Michael is in really poor health,” he said. “Under no circumstances do we think the Iranians are providing him with adequate care.”

A spokesman for the family, Jonathan Franks, told US-funded Persian-language Radio Farda that a diplomat from Switzerland, which represents US interests in Iran in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, had met with Mr White.

“He paid a fee at a tourist office in Mashhad and was in a taxi when he was pulled over by undercover police, arrested, he was beaten, detained in a detention centre for about two months, and interrogated about the time he was in the Navy,” Mr Franks told Radio Farda.

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