American Journalists Arrested: US Embassy Should Remind Bahrain of Press Freedom

The family of Anna Therese Day have confirmed she is one of four American journalists arrested in Bahrain yesterday on the anniversary of the popular protests which broke out there in 2011.
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The family of Anna Therese Day have confirmed she is one of four American journalists arrested in Bahrain yesterday on the anniversary of the popular protests which broke out there in 2011.

A local source told me they are expected to appear before Bahrain’s public prosecution tomorrow morning.

Her three colleagues have yet to be formally named, are and believed to be members of her camera crew. An eyewitness told me one of the four was arrested on a street in Sitra around 3.30pm, the other three taken at a security checkpoint at about 10pm.

Bahrain’s state news agency has confirmed that “The four are suspected of offences including entering Bahrain illegally having submitted false information to border staff, and participating in an unlawful gathering.”

The “unlawful gathering” charge is a common one pinned on dissidents in Bahrain who are in the vicinity of any sort of protest or gathering, and the “entering Bahrain illegally” is possibly because the four didn’t declare they were journalists when they arrived in Bahrain a few days ago.

Journalists and NGO workers often tick the Tourism box on visas for repressive countries which deny entry to reporters and human rights activists. Bahrain is notorious for not allowing critics into the country - it has famously refused to permit New York Times journalist Nick Kristof into the kingdom for several years. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has also been denied entry, as was US Member of Congress Jim McGovern in 2014. Like many others from international human rights organizations I am routinely denied entry to the kingdom and haven’t been allowed in, despite many attempts to visit, since March 2012.

American Erin Kilbride was swiftly deported from Bahrain in August 2013 when authorities discovered she was writing articles exposing human rights violations in the country.

The questions now are whether the authorities will overreact and prosecute some or all of the four, bringing unwanted international attention to the regime’s appalling human rights record, and whether the US embassy in Manama will play a constructive role in finding a solution to the incident.

Bahrain state media reported that US Ambassador William Roebuck met Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa today, though there is no mention in the official report that the journalists were discussed. The State Department should emphasize the universal rights to freedoms of peaceful of expression and assembly in its dealings with the Bahrain regime, and not be bullied into muting its criticism of press freedoms and other rights, as we have seen too often in recent years.

The Bahrain authorities’ report that the four “have been afforded full legal rights in line with the Kingdom’s procedures and constitution while investigations continue” is of little reassurance, given the dictatorship’s long record in ignoring legal safeguards.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports there are at least six other journalists in jail in Bahrain in connection with their work, and that “The government has frequently equated reporting on protests and attacks on police with participating in them”.

Anna Day is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, CNN, CBS, the Huffington Post and elsewhere. A spokesperson for her family said she is "much loved and missed and we are concerned about her well being as well as that of her three American colleagues. We hope the Bahraini authorities will release all four journalists as soon as possible so they can return home."

Update, February 17: The four journalists were charged but released and allowed to leave Bahrain.

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