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Prosecutor Bans US Prisoner from Speaking to Family and Lawyers

March 12, 2019
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read
According to Michael White’s mother, prior to his arrest, he had traveled to Iran several times to meet his Iranian girlfriend
According to Michael White’s mother, prior to his arrest, he had traveled to Iran several times to meet his Iranian girlfriend
Former political prisoner Ivar Farhadi, who first broke the story of Michael White's imprisonment to IranWire, says he has gone on a hunger strike
Former political prisoner Ivar Farhadi, who first broke the story of Michael White's imprisonment to IranWire, says he has gone on a hunger strike

Michael R White, the 47-year-old US Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran since July 2018, has not been allowed to speak with his family or lawyers, IranWire has learned. A recent "secret ruling" in his case had been carried out “in Persian and without the presence of an interpreter or lawyer.”

Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for the family of the US citizen, added that the family has not been given any information about the number of trial sessions or any other details about White's case. He said White had not been allowed to call his family and the family has had no contact with him. It is not yet known what agency is responsible for his arrest.

More than seven months after White’s arrest in Mashhad, Iranian officials have yet to provide a clear answer as to why he was detained; the US State Department has not spoken publicly on the issue. On March 11, Mashhad’s prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi announced that the court had issued a verdict in White’s case. He claimed to have no knowledge about the “details of the case” but that it involved charges linked to national security issues.

During an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Sadeghi said that “both private and public plaintiffs” had brought a complaint against Michael White, contradicting comments he gave to Mehr News Agency on January 5, in which he stated that White’s arrest and continued imprisonment was linked to “a private complaint” only. “We were told that that Mashhad’s prosecutor has banned communication with Michael, whether through phone or through mail, but we have no idea why this decision has been made,” said Jonathan Franks.


Iranian Officials Say Nothing

Had the family been successful in its attempts to speak to Iranian officials about White, I asked? “No. Neither we, nor the US State Department or the Swiss embassy in Tehran have been able to get information about his case,” Franks said. “We have no information about his conditions, the charges against him and other details. We only learned that his health is not good. It’s possible his cancer has returned and he suffers from asthma as well. What we can be certain of is that the prison is making his ailments worse.”

Franks said the family was raising money to hire a lawyer in Iran. He also said he and the family had been told that food in Iranian prisons is of poor quality and that most prisoners buy in their own food. “We are raising funds to help Michael both to buy his daily food from the prison shop and to get a lawyer. He has nobody in Iran and has no ability to contact anybody over here.”

According to Franks, the funds will be transferred to Iran via the Swiss embassy in Tehran.

Michael White traveled to Iran to meet an Iranian girlfriend; photographs of the pair have appeared on social media. When I asked about the woman, Franks replied: “We have no information about her. We do not know whether she has been arrested or not.”

On March 10, Michael White’s family issued a statement responding to reports by the semi-official Tasnim News about the secret trial. 

“Today, three weeks after the Deputy Foreign Minister clearly stated there were no security or espionage charges on the table in Mike’s case, the Mashhad prosecutor has announced a secret ‘ruling’ in the case that he says includes security-related accusations. To reiterate, Mike is not a spy and a judicial proceeding that issues a secret verdict in a case before the accused learns the nature of the charges against him, and without any legal representation, runs counter to accepted international legal norms of due process and fairness,” the statement read. 

Franks added that the family wanted to express that it "harbors no ill will towards Iran or its people. We’re simply asking that the government respect his rights under Iranian and International law.  


“Indefinite” Hunger Strike

Ivar Farhadi, a former cellmate of White, initially told IranWire about the incarceration of the American in early January. Farhadi has since told CBS News that, through his sources inside Mashhad’s Vakilabad Prison, he has learned that White has been on a hunger strike since March 8 to protest against his detention. Farhadi said that White planned to continue the strike indefinitely, to protest "his uncertain situation" and the "anti-human condition" of his detention.

“I was in Common Ward 4 and he was in Ward 3,” Ivar Farhadi told IranWire. “Most of the inmates in Ward 3 have no access to the phone and are not allowed visits. Inmates of common wards go for their walks in the yard at different times so I had not met Michael, until one time when I was playing volleyball.” He talked to him briefly afterward. “He introduced himself as Michael White, 45, from San Diego, California, who had served with the US Navy.”

White told Farhadi that he had come to know an Iranian girl online and had traveled to Iran three times to see her. But the third time, when White and his girlfriend were about to fly to Turkey, he was arrested at Hasheminejad Airport in Mashhad. He has been in prison since July 2018. Farhadi said White told him that he had a tumor “that might be cancerous.”


A Hostage with No Charges Against Him

“He was not in a good psychological condition and is not allowed visitors or access to the phone,” Farhadi told IranWire. “He is virtually a hostage without any charges against him. Michael is kept among dangerous criminals including murderers and professional drug smugglers and his life is in danger. I promised to myself that if I got out of prison one of the first things I would do would be to inform people about the situation of this American prisoner.”

On January 7, Michael’s mother Joanne White told the New York Times that he had been set to return from Iran via Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on July 27, but never boarded his flight. She said she had filed a missing-person report afterward and that the State Department and Department of Homeland Security had been in touch with her about trying to locate him. State Department officials confirmed that he was in an Iranian prison only three weeks earlier.

White’s mother said he had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman she described as his girlfriend. She said that before her son’s last visit to Iran, he had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a tumor in his neck, and that he suffers from acute asthma.

Two days after Joanne White’s interview, Bahram Ghasemi, an Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesman, confirmed that an American citizen was being held in Vakilabad Prison but dismissed reports about his mistreatment as “lies” and as part of a “psychological warfare” against Iran. He said the arrest of Michael White had been reported early on to the US Interest Section at the Swiss embassy in Tehran and that the Iranian government has been aware of the arrest since the beginning.


Related Coverage:

Navy Veteran Imprisoned in Iran Was Beaten, Family Says, March 5, 2019

Is There an Unknown American Prisoner in Iran?, January 7, 2019

Jailed US Citizen Detained Due to "Private Complaint", January 25, 2019

Wife of Imperial Beach man arrested in Iran recalls suspicious behavior, January 28, 2019




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