A U.S. journalist and three members of her camera crew have been arrested in Bahrain, Reporters Without Borders said on Monday, urging the Gulf kingdom to release the four American citizens "rapidly and without harm."
In a statement, the group described Anna Day and her three colleagues as experienced journalists, who had most recently worked on virtual reality documentaries in Egypt and Gaza. It is believed that the journalists traveled to Bahrain to cover the fifth anniversary of the country's Arab Spring uprising.
A Bahraini police statement issued earlier said authorities had detained four foreign nationals.
Bahrain's interior ministry said in a statement the four were "suspected of offences including entering Bahrain illegally having submitted false information to border staff, and participating in an unlawful gathering."
"One of them was masked and taking part with a group of saboteurs in Sitra in acts of rioting and sabotage and attacks on security officials," the statement said. "The other three were arrested at a security checkpoint in the same area.
The four entered Bahrain between Feb. 11 and 12 and "provided false information to concerned authorities," claiming to be tourists, police said.
The Arabic-language Mira'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Mirror) said the four were detained in Sitra, a Shia village east of Manama, on Sunday while covering clashes between security forces and pro-democracy protesters marking the anniversary.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware that Americans has been arrested, but had no comment due to privacy concerns.
A friend of Day's, who asked not to be named because of her own work as an independent journalist in hostile areas, said that government accreditation for foreign correspondents in Bahrain can be difficult to get and can imply restrictions, so freelancers commonly work without it.
A representative for Day's family rejected any suggestion that the four were involved in any illegal behavior or non-journalistic activities. Their case has been referred to the public prosecution.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the release of the four and noted that at least six other journalists are currently imprisoned in Bahrain in connection with their work.
Day has reported in the Middle East, northern Africa, India, Brazil and Mexico and her work has been published by the New York Times, CNN, Al Jazeera English, Huffington Post, CBS, Daily Beast and other media.
Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain was rocked by an Arab Spring-inspired uprising demanding democratic reforms and a constitutional monarchy on Feb. 14, 2011.
Authorities crushed the protest movement one month later. But demonstrators still take to the streets and clash with police in Shia towns surrounding the capital Manama.