Switzerland's ambassador to Iran has been summoned in Tehran following the arrest in the US of a journalist working for Iranian state-run Press TV news channel. Switzerland has been representing US interests in Iran since 1980.
American citizen and Iranian resident Marzieh Hashemi was taken into custody on January 13 at the St Louis Lambert International Airport and transported to a Washington detention centre by the FBI. The reasons behind the arrest of the 59-year-old are not clear. Unsealed court documents indicate she is wanted as witness in a case that involves violation of US law.
Markus Leitner, the Swiss ambassador, was summoned in Tehran on Tuesday as Switzerland represents US interests in Iran. Switzerland role as a “protecting power” or intermediary dates back to the 1980 hostage crisis when protestors occupied the US embassy in Tehran and took diplomats hostage.
“An official protest note has been issued to the Swiss ambassador regarding the arrest and continued detention by US government officials of Iranian Press TV journalist Marzieh Hachemi," Iranian Foreign Affairs spokesman Bahram Ghasemi to press agency AFP.
According to Ghasemi, the protest note Iran calls for the journalist's "immediate and unconditional release".
The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) remains tight-lipped on the matter.
"Switzerland does not comment on any activities with regards to its mandate of representing US interests in Iran, " an FDFA spokesperson told swissinfo.ch.
Protecting power mandates
A protecting power mandate allows essential basic services to be provided, such as the issuing of visas. If the countries concerned wish, Switzerland can also offer a communications channel, allowing exchanges between the US and Iran despite the absence of diplomatic relations. Both countries must consent to such an arrangement. According to the foreign ministry website, Switzerland’s other mandates include:
- Iran in Egypt (since 1979)
- Saudi Arabia and Iran (since October 2017)
- Russia in Georgia (since 13 December 2008)
- Georgia in Russia (since 12 January 2009)