DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – 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 Shiite 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. 5th 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 Shiites 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.
Shiites 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, but their lawyer and media campaign group Reporters Without Borders identified them as U.S. journalist Anna Day and three members of her camera crew, all of them U.S. citizens.
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 statement said.
Day has reported in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Latin America for numerous media outlets, mostly American.
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.
The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain could not immediately be reached for comment.