Exclusive: U.S. Journalist Detained Covering Bahrain Protests Gives 1st Interview Since Release

February 25, 2016
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Anna Therese Day

independent journalist who has lived and reported in the Middle East for five years, focusing on how U.S. foreign policy affects young people in the region.

In an exclusive interview, we speak with one of four U.S. journalists who were detained in the Gulf state of Bahrain and released Sunday after an international outcry. Anna Therese Day and her camera crew were in Bahrain during protests marking the fifth anniversary of the kingdom’s February 2011 uprising. Bahraini authorities accused the group of falsely representing themselves as tourists and claimed one of them participated in an attack on police. They were taken into custody and charged with illegal assembly with the intent to commit a crime. During their interrogation, they were initially denied an attorney and prevented from speaking with family members. Human Rights First said the arrest of the journalists is part of a continuing crackdown on dissent in Bahrain. This comes as the group renews its call for the release of Bahraini opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, who was sentenced to a year in jail Wednesday for a 2015 speech in which he called for change. The Bahraini government has fought to suppress opposition protesters and journalists since the uprising in 2011 that was crushed by martial law and U.S.-backed forces from Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is a close ally of the United States and is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for all naval forces in the Gulf.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with an exclusive interview with one of four U.S. journalists who were detained in the Gulf state of Bahrain and released Sunday after an international outcry. Anna Therese Day and her camera crew were in Bahrain during protests marking the anniversary of the kingdom’s February 2011 uprising. Bahraini authorities accused the group of falsely representing themselves as tourists, and claimed one of them participated in an attack on police. They were taken into custody and charged with illegal assembly with the intent to commit a crime. During their interrogation, they were initially denied an attorney and prevented from speaking with family members.

AMY GOODMAN: Human Rights First said the arrest of the journalists is part of a continuing crackdown on dissent in Bahrain. This comes as the group renews its call for the release of Bahraini opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, who was sentenced to a year in jail Wednesday for a 2015 speech in which he called for change. The Bahraini government has fought to suppress opposition protesters and journalists since the 2011 uprising, that was crushed by martial law and U.S.-backed forces from Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is a close ally of the United States. It’s home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for all naval forces in the Gulf.

Well, for more, we’re glad to be joined by Anna Therese Day, one of the journalists just released from detention in Bahrain.

It’s great to have you with us. Talk about when you went to Bahrain and what happened.

ANNA THERESE DAY: We went for the five-year anniversary of their uprising, which was February 14th. One thing that is interesting about Bahrain is, while it’s often overlooked, it had one of the highest percentages of its population that participated in its Arab Spring uprising. So we were excited to get back there. I reported there in 2011. We wanted to follow up on the reports of human rights violations continuing—and again, human rights violations that continue right next to America’s—one of America’s most important military presence in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened?

ANNA THERESE DAY: We entered on tourist visas. We were entering—

AMY GOODMAN: Why tourist visas?

ANNA THERESE DAY: We were entering undercover. We knew that we would be meeting primarily with opposition figures that face enormous threats inside the country. We made that decision deliberately, understanding the potential consequences. And we decided that we absolutely felt this story was worth the risk. So we entered on tourist visas undercover, met with opposition and activists and protesters, leading up to the five-year anniversary, and learned about the tremendous repression that they face to this day.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And when were you detained?

ANNA THERESE DAY: We were detained on the five-year anniversary of the uprising while reporting.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So the very day you arrived? Like how long after you arrived?

ANNA THERESE DAY: We had been in the country for about three days. And to even go to the areas that the main protests were, they had been—the people had been pushed off the main thoroughfares of Bahrain. So, you know, you can drive down the highway in Bahrain, and it seems like a glistening Gulf kingdom. But if you look off the highway, you can see clouds of black smoke in these neighborhoods that have been totally cordoned off. So, to even enter the neighborhoods, we had trouble entering them the first few days, because they’ve been totally sealed off from the main—from the main highways. To enter the neighborhoods, you have to climb over barbed wire and concrete barriers. The residents have enormous trouble getting in and out. And then, inside, because there have been so many midnight raids on these people’s neighborhoods and communities, young people have started putting up their own barricades to prevent the police from continuing these midnight roundups.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly happened to you?

ANNA THERESE DAY: When we were inside reporting, one of our—our sound engineer, he was up with our—one of our camera ops at the front of one of the protests. And while the protesters fled, they did, as well, following them. And the police were able to grab our sound engineer. Then, we immediately called the embassy, said that, you know, he’s at a police station now, we have his passport, we’re very worried about that, but that this neighborhood is—it was a little war zone. It was totally sealed off. And if we walked over to the police station, we’d be arrested, as well. The embassy said they would intervene.

And they also advised us to stay in the neighborhood for the night, because they are very well aware of the crackdown on these neighborhoods and that we would—that there’s essentially an occupation. So, we were planning on staying inside. We continued to do some reporting. And however, as the evening went on, of course, we were concerned about our colleague. We were also very concerned about the material and the safety of people we had shot. And then, lastly, we started—protesters started taking pictures of us and tweeting them, because they were so excited to have foreign journalists. And we realized, you know, that could endanger the people that we were staying with inside. So we wanted to leave so that the nighttime raids on these neighborhoods wouldn’t turn into, you know, an aggressive search for the foreign journalists.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And five years—you went five years after the protests began. What did you learn from the people that you were able to speak to in those three days? You said Bahrain had the largest proportion of the population participating in the protests. What’s happened in the intervening five years?

ANNA THERESE DAY: The government has succeeded in creating an oppressive culture of fear. The protesters, although they’re not able to make it to the main thoroughfares, they’re still protesting in their neighborhoods.

Just to describe the scene a little bit for you guys, on the 14th, the police occupied the neighborhood so aggressively that the people couldn’t even fully congregate. So the whole day was spent, people trying to come to mosques and main areas where they could congregate, and the police busting through these areas, arresting people, rounding people up. The rooftops of these entire neighborhoods were filled with family members, so grandmothers, grandfathers, parents shouting from the rooftops, "The police are coming from that way!" you know, just shouting directions down to the young people trying to protest.

Another important thing that we noticed was, when the protesters would run from the police, they were brought into strangers’ homes. We were brought into other people’s homes. Grandmothers were, you know, giving us water and trying to feed us. They really—it felt like a neighborhood effort to continue to resist this police occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: Ultimately, how long were you held for, Anna?

ANNA THERESE DAY: Forty-eight hours.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you get out?

ANNA THERESE DAY: Embassy intervention, absolutely. We were prevented from calling our embassy repeatedly. We were isolated, detained, mistreated, deprived of—

AMY GOODMAN: Interrogated during this time?

ANNA THERESE DAY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of this conversation and post it online at democracynow.org. Anna Therese Day, independent journalist, who has lived and reported in the Middle East for five years, focusing on how U.S. foreign policy affects young people in the region. She was just recently detained by the Bahraini government with her camera crew, and we will continue the conversation at democracynow.org.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We have three job openings at Democracy Now! Check our website at democracynow.org.


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