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U.S. Navy veteran held in Iran over private lawsuit

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said a U.S. Navy veteran has been arrested in connection to a private lawsuit. Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said a U.S. Navy veteran has been arrested in connection to a private lawsuit. Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A veteran of the U.S. Navy has been jailed in Iran after he was named in an unspecified lawsuit filed by a private citizen, officials said Friday.

U.S. veteran Michael White was arrested in Mashhad earlier this month. The detention was immediately reported to the United States, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

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The nature of the lawsuit wasn't immediately clear.

The arrest has strained an already tenuous relationship between the United States and Iran, which flared last year after President Donald Trump abandoned the Obama-era nuclear agreement between Tehran and Washington.

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An Iranian spokesman denied news reports that White has been treated poorly and harassed in prison, calling it more anti-Iran propaganda.

"Such untrue and unfounded reports are categorically rejected," foreign ministry spokesman Behram Ghasemi said.

White has cancer and could die if he doesn't receive proper medical care, his mother said earlier this month when she pleaded for his release. She also shared photos of the 46-year-old veteran after a round of chemotherapy.

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Asked whether White could face additional security-related charges, Ghasemi said it's a possibility, but right now he faces a private plaintiff.

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Iran has a history of arresting foreign nationals on vague security-related charges like spying or conspiring against the regime. White traveled to Iran last summer to visit a girlfriend, who he'd visited multiple times before. He went missing in July.

Iran has detained several other Americans since Trump scrapped the 2015 nuclear deal.

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U.S. authorities detained Marzieh Hashemi, an Iranian state broadcaster for Press TV, for 10 days as a material witness. Born Melanie Franklin in the United States, Hashemi said she was kept in "unbelievable conditions" as if she were a "mass murderer."

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