Watch CBSN Live

U.S. Navy vet Michael White's family slams Iran's "secret ruling" as illegal

Michael White's mother fears for his health
Michael White's mother fears for his health 02:28

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said White was reportedly on a hunger strike, which his family has since disputed. 

An Iranian court has issued a verdict in the case against a U.S. Navy veteran detained in the Islamic Republic, according to a local prosecutor, but it remained unclear what the court had decided or what he was even charged with. A ruling in the case of Michael White "has been issued," Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency quoted prosecutor Gholamali Sadeqi as saying, without clarifying what the verdict was, when it was reached or when it would be announced. The report did reveal that White may have been facing more serious charges than previously thought.

White, 47, has been held in a prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad since he disappeared in July. 

Jonathan Franks, a representative for the family, said last week that White had not been able to contact them, and they were not aware of any charges against him.

In a statement released Monday, the White family derided Iran's opaque justice system, calling the "secret ruling" a violation of "accepted international legal norms of due process and fairness." The family reiterated in the statement their insistence that White is not a spy, and that neither they nor White himself was even aware what charges he faced. 

Sadeqi, the Mashhad prosecutor, said White's case involved both a public and private plaintiff or plaintiffs, as well as "security-related" charges. Those remarks contradicted a February statement by Iran's Foreign Ministry that said White was not facing any security- or espionage-related charges. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.

White's mother Joanne has said her son is not and never was a spy, and that he worked as a cook for the Navy before leaving military service. In the remarks published by Iranian media on Monday, the California native was referred to as a U.S. "serviceman."

Iran confirms arrest of U.S. Navy veteran 03:40

White's mother told CBS News that he was arrested on a third visit to the country to see a girlfriend he met online. In a statement last week, Joanne White said her son "was badly beaten when he was arrested" and had been taken to court in Iran at least twice "for proceedings in Farsi that he couldn't understand."

White began a hunger strike last week to protest his detention, according to Ivar Farhadi, an activist who in December broke the news of White's imprisonment. Farhadi said he heard through sources inside Vakilabad Prison, where White is being held, that he planned to continue his hunger strike indefinitely.

White's mother has said she's concerned that his cancer will recur and that he suffers from severe asthma and other health problems. "Mike's health continues to deteriorate," the family said in its Monday statement. 

White is one of at least four Americans known to be held in Iran. His case has added tension to the country's already-strained relationship with the United States. Diplomats from the Swiss Embassy, which handles U.S. consular affairs in Iran, have been able to visit White at least once.

U.S. Navy veteran Michael White is seen with his mother Joanne in an undated photo posted on a crowdfunding website set up to raise money for legal fees to defend him from unspecified charges in Iran, where he was jailed in the summer 2018. gofundme/freemikewhite

White's family has set up a crowdfunding website seeking donations to help them pay legal fees and provide extra food for White in prison. They said all donations would be transmitted via the State Department to the Swiss Embassy in Iran, to eventually help the jailed American.

In the statement released on Monday, the family said "issues with GoFundMe's payment processor relating to sanctions" against Iran had been resolved, and they hoped "to continue crowdfunding so an Iranian attorney can be hired to defend him."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.