Live

Watch CBSN Live

Representative for Michael White's family denies he is on hunger strike in Iranian prison

Michael White's mother fears for his health

Editor's Note: This article, which was first published March 8, has been updated throughout.


London – A representative for the family of Michael White, an American Navy veteran imprisoned in Iran, has denied reports he is on a hunger strike.

"The claims made by a dissident about Mike having been on a hunger strike are categorically false and unhelpful," the representative, Jonathan Franks, told CBS News.

Franks made the statement Thursday after CBS News reported last week that an activist with sources inside an Iranian prison said White had gone on hunger strike to protest his detention in the Islamic Republic, which Iran's government has yet to fully explain. Cyberactivist Ivar Farhadi told CBS News that White began his strike last Thursday.

It was Farhadi who first broke the news in December of White's imprisonment, tweeting that he had met the California native in Vakilabad Prison in the city of Mashhad.

Farhadi said he had heard from sources inside the jail that White, 47, planned to continue the strike indefinitely, to protest "his uncertain situation" and the "anti-human condition" of his detention -- including being held without any knowledge of charges against him -- if any have even been formally filed.

Iran's government has given very little information on White's arrest, but on Monday, Iranian media reported that a local prosecutor said an Iranian court issued a verdict in his case. It remains unclear what the court decided or what he was charged with.

According to Iran's semi-official ISNA News Agency, Mashhad prosecutor Gholamali Sadeqi 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 worked as a cook for the Navy but left the service about a decade ago, according to a spokesman for his family. Both his family and U.S. officials have insisted White is not and never has been a spy. The spokesman, Franks, said White had recently worked as a janitor.  

White's mother Joanne told CBS News in January that she prays every day that her son will be freed from prison in Iran before it's too late. She said she worried his recurring cancer might come back and he could die. Joanne White has said her son was on his third trip to visit a girlfriend in Iran in July when he was arrested.

A statement released last week by Franks said they had learned more about his arrest and "the beatings he endured after his arrest.  We also know he's been taken to Iranian Court twice. The proceedings have been entirely in Farsi, and no translator, much less an attorney was provided."

"We continue to believe his health status is declining, continue to be concerned about a recurrence of his cancer as well several other potentially life threatening conditions," the statement said, noting that a website had been set up seeking donations to help the family pay legal fees and provide extra food for White in prison.

The family said donations would be transmitted via the State Department to the Swiss Embassy in Iran, which handles U.S. consular affairs as Washington has no formal diplomatic relations with the country.

The statement said any money left over would be donated "to an A-rated veterans charity."

View CBS News In