February 16, 2016 / 11:28 AM / a year ago

Released American journalists have left Bahrain: relatives

3 Min Read

An undated handout photo of U.S. journalist Anna Day provided by Jesse Ayala, February 15, 2016.Jesse Ayala/Handout via Reuters

DUBAI (Reuters) - An American journalist and her camera crew who were arrested in Bahrain and accused of participating in an illegal gathering have left the country after being released on Tuesday, their families said in a statement.

Bahrain had said security forces arrested four U.S. citizens on Sunday while they were "participating with a group of saboteurs who were carrying out riot acts" in the village of Sitra. They were found with cameras and computers.

Demonstrators in Sitra, a Shi'ite village east of the capital, Manama, have clashed with security forces in recent days as the country marked the fifth anniversary of Arab Spring protests.

The U.S.-allied kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, put down the 2011 protests by force with help from Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia. But Bahrain continues to see unrest, especially in villages where Shi'ites are a majority.

Earlier on Tuesday, Bahrain's public prosecution office said it had ordered the release of the group after interrogating them in the presence of their lawyers.

Shi'ites complain of discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government and want more say in the island's politics. Rights groups say the authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissent and accuse security forces of using torture to extract confessions.

The government denies discrimination and rejects charges of torture. It says it has set up several bodies to monitor compliance with international human rights covenants.

Bahrain did not name the four people detained, but their lawyer and media campaign group Reporters Without Borders identified them as journalist Anna Day and three members of her camera crew, all U.S. citizens.

U.S. officials were allowed consular access to the Americans while they were detained, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. He declined to comment further, citing U.S. privacy laws.

The families of the journalists said they were thrilled the group had left Bahrain.

"We are grateful to the Bahraini authorities for their speedy resolution of the issue and to the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain and State Department officials who worked tirelessly to assist the group," the families said in their statement.

Day has reported in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Latin America for numerous media outlets, mostly American. According to her LinkedIn page, Day has been a Fulbright Fellow and a United Nations Press Fellow.

Matt Mulberry, a Washington-based journalist who trained with Day at a journalism program in Mexico in 2012, said she knew the region and how to report on popular movements.

"So she knew exactly where to look to find an effective story, and this was probably too much for the government," Mulberry said.

Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Alden Bentley and Leslie Adler

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