Anna Therese Day of Boise, who has contributed to The New York Times and CNN, was among four American journalists covering the anniversary of its 2011 uprising amid a long crackdown on dissent in the tiny Gulf nation, witnesses said.
On Tuesday, Day, 27, and three other journalists were charged, released and then flew out of the country, a lawyer said.
Despite charging the journalists, Bahraini officials allowed them to head for the airport, apparently after intervention of the U.S. Embassy in Manama. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and surrounding waterways crucial to the global oil trade.
The arrests and charges highlight the sensitivity the kingdom still feels five years after the uprising, as low-level unrest and protests continue.
The journalists left a police station after meeting with prosecutors and were on their way to the airport to fly out Tuesday night, lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told The Associated Press. They had been held since their arrests Sunday while covering protests in Sitra, a Shiite community outside of the capital, Manama.
Bahrain police initially said they detained the four Americans for providing “false information that they were tourists” and also alleged that one took part in an attack on Bahraini officers.
In a statement Tuesday, Manama’s chief prosecutor Nawaf al-Awadi said the journalists’ possession of cameras and computers sparked the investigation. It said the journalists were freed “pending the completion of the investigation.”
Al-Awadi said the journalists — Day and three men who have not been publicly identified — had been charged with illegally assembling with the intent to commit a crime. The nature of their release suggests they’ll likely be banned from returning to Bahrain.
The U.S. Embassy in Manama declined to immediately comment on news of the journalists’ release. On Monday, U.S. Ambassador William V. Roebuck met with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, according to a late-night statement on the state-run Bahrain News Agency.
In a statement, The Huffington Post told The Associated Press that Day, who had blogged on its website and appeared on its HuffPost Live program, was not on assignment for the outlet at the time of her arrest. Day has also written for The Daily Beast.
“The safety of journalists is of utmost importance to The Huffington Post and we have security measures in place for our reporters around the world,” the statement read. “Anna Day is not employed or contracted by The Huffington Post.”
Day is an award-winning journalist who has reported extensively from the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere, The Guardian newspaper from Britain reported. She is also a Fulbright Fellow.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in 2010 from the University of Wisconsin and has master’s degrees in digital communication and entrepreneurship from IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, and in politics of conflict, Arab-Israeli relations and Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel.
Jesse Ayala, a friend in New York, said Day and her crew “were not on an exclusive assignment” when they were arrested.
“The allegation that they were in any way involved in illegal behavior or anything other than journalistic activities is impossible,” Ayala said in a statement.
Photographs of the reporters working in Sitra, a largely Shiite community south of the capital that has seen repeated protests, circulated on social media, including one image of Day being filmed while speaking to a masked protester.
On Sunday, police arrested a photographer working with the group, the two witnesses said. Later that night, police surrounded the area with checkpoints and arrested the other three, they said. The witnesses spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.
An Interior Ministry statement alleged one of the four journalists “was wearing a mask and participating in attacks on police alongside other rioters in Sitra.” The statement also said the journalists entered the country between Thursday and Friday on tourist visas.
“At least some of the arrestees were in the country as members of the international media but had not registered with the concerned authority and were involved in illegal activities,” the statement said, without elaborating on what those activities were.
Bahrain requires international journalists to obtain special media visas before entering to work. The island kingdom allows citizens of many countries, including the U.S., to get a tourist visa on arrival. Obtaining a media visa takes several days, and activists say Bahrain has denied media visas for some journalists since the 2011 protests.
A statement on the state-run Bahrain News Agency said the journalists had “been afforded full legal rights in line with the kingdom's procedures and constitution while investigations continue.”
Bahraini officials did not respond to questions from the AP about the arrests.
U.S. Ambassador William V. Roebuck also met with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa on Monday, according to a late statement on the Bahrain News Agency.
The 2011 protests in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, were the largest of the Arab Spring wave of demonstrations to rock the Gulf Arab states. They were driven by the country’s Shiite majority, who demanded greater political rights from the Sunni-led monarchy.
The protests were quashed after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in reinforcements. Bahrain blamed regional Shiite power Iran for stirring up the demonstrations, though a government-sponsored investigation into the unrest said there wasn't a “discernable link” between the protests and the Islamic Republic based on the information the government gave them.
Bahrain's government committed to a number of reforms in the wake of the 2011 demonstrations, but low-level unrest continues, particularly in Shiite communities. Small groups of activists frequently clash with riot police and bombs occasionally target security forces. Hundreds of Bahraini youths protested Sunday on the fifth anniversary of the uprising.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists had called for the immediate release of the American journalists, saying at least six other reporters are being held by the kingdom over their work.
“It is sad that the fifth anniversary of the protests is marked by the arrest of yet more journalists in Bahrain, which has since become one of the worst jailers of journalists in the Arab world,” said Sherif Mansour, the committee's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.