Bahrain charges US journalists over 'illegal gathering'

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A prison van believed to be carrying some of the four detained American journalists leaves the Public Prosecution offices in Manama, Bahrain, (16 February 2016)Image source, AP
Image caption,
The journalists were transported to the public prosecution's offices in Manama on Tuesday

Prosecutors in Bahrain have charged four US journalists with participating in an unlawful gathering, but released them pending further investigation.

A statement said the four had been charged after being questioned with their lawyers present.

It did not name them, but one has been identified as Anna Therese Day. The others are male members of her crew.

They were arrested on Sunday at a protest marking the fifth anniversary of Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising.

A friend of Ms Day has said the journalists were simply doing their jobs and denied they had not taken part in any illegal activities.

'Criminal acts'

The official Bahrain News Agency on Tuesday cited a public prosecution statement as saying it had received a complaint from the head of the Capital Governorate Police Force "regarding acts of vandalism and rioting in the Sitra area".

"The public prosecution stated that security authorities detained four US nationals during the incident as a result of their involvement in the criminal acts, and that one of the individuals was concealing his face at the time of his arrest," BNA said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Anna Therese Day has been identified as one of the four American journalists detained

"The individuals were questioned in the presence of lawyers and charged with unlawful obstruction of vehicles and attending unlawful gatherings," it added.

The public prosecution confirmed that all four had been released pending further investigation. It was not immediately clear whether they could leave the country.

On Monday, the interior ministry said the journalists had entered the country between Thursday and Friday on tourist visas and "had not registered with the concerned authority".

The opposition news website Bahrain Mirror said the four were detained in Sitra, a predominantly Shia village east of Manama, while reporting on clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The journalists were arrested while covering a protest on Sunday in the Sitra area

Two witnesses told the Associated Press that police first detained a photographer working with the group on Sunday night. Later, officers surrounded the area with checkpoints and arrested the other three, they said.

Bahrain has been racked by unrest since February 2011, when demonstrators occupied Manama's Pearl Roundabout, demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia community by the Sunni royal family.

The protesters were driven out by security forces in March 2011, after the king brought in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states to restore order and crush dissent.

The unrest left at least 30 civilians and five policemen dead. Almost 3,000 people were also arrested, and scores were handed long prison terms by military courts.

Opposition activists say dozens of people have been killed in ongoing clashes between protesters and security forces, while bomb attacks blamed on Iran-backed militants have left a number of police officers dead.