This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The mother of a U.S. Navy veteran held in Iran believes he has a recurrence of life-threatening cancer and she is calling for his immediate release to seek treatment, a spokesman says.
Michael White, 46, has been held since July, and is the first known American to have been detained in Iran since Donald Trump became president two years ago.
Joanne White based her belief that White, 46, has cancer on “firsthand evidence provided to her by Iranian nationals who were incarcerated with Michael,” spokesman Jonathan Franks said in a statement on January 25.
“She respectfully calls on the regime to release him immediately so he may get the care he needs. In the interim it is critical that the Iranian regime afford Michael the unfettered, regular consular access and contact with his family consistent with Iran’s international and bilateral obligations,” the statement added.
An Iranian prosecutor has said that White was detained in connection to a “private complaint.”
Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency on January 25 quoted prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi as saying the case was still “under investigation,” without elaborating. He did not confirm reports that the man faces security charges.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi earlier this month confirmed White’s arrest which had been first reported by The New York Times on January 7, but did not specify when it had happened or what crime he was accused of.
The newspaper quoted Joanne White as saying her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman she described as his girlfriend.
White’s detainment was also reported on January 7 by Iran Wire, an online news service run by Iranian expatriates.
Iran in the past has detained Westerners and dual nationals to use them as leverage in negotiations.
Several of them have been accused of spying.
The statement on behalf of Joanne White said that his son is not a spy and that he was visiting his girlfriend.
“To be clear, Michael is not now, nor has he ever been a spy and we reject the notion he committed some sort of crime against the State. He was visiting his girlfriend. He has no part in the ongoing geopolitical conflict between Iran and the United States and Joanne respectfully pleads for the Iranian Government for Michael’s release so that he may get the urgent medical care she believes he needs,” the statement said.
Tensions have been high since Trump pulled Washington out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Tehran last year.