The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI continued on Thursday to refuse comment on the alleged detention of an American woman who has worked for years as an anchorwoman on Iraninfo-icon's state-run television. Marzieh Hashemi was arrested by the FBI during a visit to the U.S. on Sunday, Iran's English-language broadcaster Press TVinfo-icon reported Wednesday. Her son has said she is being held in a prison, apparently as a material witness.

Hashemi was detained in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area. She was then taken to Washington, according to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi.

According to reports, both the FBI and the Justice Department have declined to comment on the case. 

Hashemi, 58, was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans but has worked for Iran's state TVinfo-icon network for 25 years now.

Hossein Hashemi told The Associated Press that his mother lives in Tehraninfo-icon, the capital of Iran, and comes back to this country about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work somewhere in the U.S. as well.

"No idea what's going on"

"We still have no idea what's going on," said Hossein Hashemi, a researchinfo-icon fellow at the University of Colorado whom the AP interviewed by phone from Washington. He also said he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

The incident comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties. Those cases have previously been used as bargaining chips in negotiations with worldinfo-icon powers.

Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be arrested and detained if the government can prove their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed, however.

She apparently was unable to call her daughter until Tuesday night. The family is trying to hire an attorney, but it has been difficult because she has not been charged with a crime, her son said.

Hashemi's detention and the material witness law

Hashemi, an American citizen, had not been contacted by the FBI before she was detained and would "absolutely" have been willing to cooperate with the agency, her son said.

Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone who might be implicated in a crime, Hossein Hashemi said, "We don't have any information along those lines."

Hashemi said his mother was arrested as she was about to board a flight from St. Louis to Denver. A spokesman for St. Louis Lambert International Airport declined to comment and referred questions to the FBI.

The constitutionality of the material witness law has "never been meaningfully tested," said Ricardo J. Bascuas, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. "The government only relies on it when they need a reason to arrest somebody but they don't have one."

No matter the reason for Marzieh Hashemi's detention, she should have been granted a courtinfo-icon appearance by now, Bascuas said.

Iranian TV anchor Hashemi due in USinfo-icon court on Friday

Meanwhile,  Iran's state-run English-language channel is reporting that its American anchorwoman detained in the U.S. will appear in court in Washington.

Press TV said Marzieh Hashemi's court appearance is Friday. The 59-year-old US citizen, who is based in Iran, was detained as a "material witness" to a criminal case and no charges were pressed against her, according to Hossein Hashemi, her elder son.

The US law defines a material witness as a person who is presumed to have information about the subject matter of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, which is critical to the outcome of the case or trial.