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Bahrain arrests 4 Americans as unrest marks anniversary of pro-democracy uprising

Reporters Without Borders is calling on the Bahraini monarchy to release four American journalists without delay. They were arrested Sunday on the fifth anniversary of Bahrain's short-lived pro-democracy uprising.

Bahraini police say they arrested four American journalists Sunday as hundreds of Bahraini's took to the streets to mark the fifth anniversary of their short-lived pro-democracy uprising.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry acknowledged the arrests on Monday on their web site, saying, "our foreign nationals were detained yesterday in Bahrain. The four are suspected of offenses including entering Bahrain illegally, having submitted false information to border staff and participating in an unlawful gathering."

A pro-democracy protester, wearing a hat that covers all but his eyes runs down a street in Bahrain.

Protests in Bahrain mark the fifth annversary of a short-lived pro-democracy movement

"They have been afforded full legal rights in line with the Kingdom's procedures and constitution while investigations continue."

While the statement identifies those arrested as "foreign" nationals, without designating their nationality, the US Embassy in the capital, Manama, acknowledged their detention.

The embassy issued a statement on Monday, saying it was "aware of the arrest of four US citizens in Bahrain" but declined to discuss the case, citing privacy issues.

The Arabic-language Mira'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Mirror) reported that four American journalists were detained in Sitra, a Shi'ite village east of Manama, on Sunday while covering clashes between local demonstrators and security forces.

The four, said to be three men and one woman, were charged with entering the country on false pretenses. One of the detainees allegedly participated in an attack on a police officer.

Americans need a tourist visa to enter the country, but that can usually be obtained at the border.

Needing visas

Foreign journalists need media visas, which typically take a few days to be processed.

"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," a government statement said, without elaborating on what those activities were.

Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet, saw large-scale protests in 2011 as pro-democracy movements swept across the Arab world.

Bahrain's pro-democracy movement was propelled by a Shiite minority that chafes under a Sunni regime.

But the government called for military help from fellow Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate, and their armies obliged – violently crushing Bahrain's reform movement. The Bahraini monarchy blamed Iran, the regional Shiite power, for provoking the unrest.

Three protesers, with their backs to the camera, watch as smoke fills the street.

Anniversary protests in Bahrain

But that claim was rejected by the monarchy's self-appointed investigators, who found no "discernable link" between the protests and the government in Tehran.

The Bahraini monarchy committed to a series of modest reforms in an effort to appease the protesters, but low-level unrest persists.

Clashes with riot police are not uncommon, neither are bombings that sometimes target security forces.

bik/kms (AP, Reuters)

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