Radhika Sainath was clutching an iPad and trying to blend in with Indian shopkeepers on the outskirts of a scattering protest when the Bahraini police asked for her passport.
“They looked at my name and they looked at their Blackberrys and they said, ‘That’s her,’” Sainath said.
Sainath is one of two activists from the United States who were deported from Bahrain on Sunday, two days before the island nation marked the one-year anniversary of protests still racking the country.
Protesters say Shiite Muslims are disenfranchised by the Sunni Muslim monarchy. Government loyalists have accused them of inciting violence, arguing Bahrain has already made reforms.
As the country neared the fateful anniversary Tuesday, clashes between protesters and police grew increasingly tense. Police flooded protests with tear gas. Some protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails at officers.
Sainath came to the country with Witness Bahrain, a group of observers that supports the Bahraini opposition. Officials accused the two activists of violating tourist visa rules by joining the protests "in order to report on them" for websites and social media, the Associated Press reported.
The Newport Beach native shared her story with The Times on Monday. The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority did not respond immediately Tuesday morning to Twitter and email requests for comment on her deportation. A phone call to the authority in Bahrain was not answered.
Sainath said on Saturday she was tweeting updates from the sidelines of a peaceful march toward Pearl Roundabout, the hub of protests last year, when tear gas canisters started whizzing by. She tweeted from the @WitnessBahrain account, “Choking on teargas as police chase peaceful protesters.”
When the gas began to clear, Sainath found herself surrounded by police. They took her to the police station and questioned her on and off for several hours, asking who invited her to the protests.
Sainath said an attorney sent by activists wasn’t allowed to meet with her; instead she met a U.S. official who told her she was detained “because we were at an illegal protest for riot purposes,” Sainath said. She was especially upset that Bahraini authorities took her equipment.
“We had taken video of people who had said, ‘You’ll black out my images afterwards, right?” she said. The U.S. official told her, “You should have known that before you took the footage,” Sainath said.
Sainath alleges she was mistreated on the flight back to London while being accompanied by Bahraini officials. Her hands were cuffed behind her back for seven hours, she said, and someone punched her in the head three times from behind. “When I asked to use the restroom, I was told, ‘If you need to use the bathroom you can go on yourself,’” she said.
The Bahraini government has restricted access to the country ahead of the protest date, turning down visas for several journalists and human rights activists and saying the demand was unusually high.
While opposition groups have denounced the deportations and police crackdowns on protests, the government has argued that it is merely trying to stop violence. The Ministry of the Interior tweeted Tuesday that "thugs set fire to electric transmitter in Mughsha and attacked civil defense to prevent firefighters from putting out the fire."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Protesters clash with police after some of them diverted an opposition march on the outskirts of Manama, the Bahraini capital, on Monday. Credit: Mazen Mahdi / European Pressphoto Agency