TEL AVIV – The Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, was briefly detained and questioned by authorities here on Tuesday while he was covering events just outside the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City and scene of numerous recent terrorist attacks.
Speaking to Breitbart Jerusalem, National Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the brief incident, explaining that Booth was not suspected of any wrongdoing.
According to Rosenfeld, the Jerusalem police had deployed reinforcements to the area of the Damascus Gate after receiving information that Arab radicals here were planning some sort of protest or disruption action in the highly sensitive spot. The action was aimed at security forces and was intended to be utilized for propaganda purposes.
Rosenfeld told Breitbart Jerusalem that Booth was removed from the area, questioned and then was immediately released. He said others in and around the same location were also questioned.
The New York Times further reported:
The Foreign Ministry later issued a statement calling the episode “regrettable” and praising Mr. Booth’s work, and the Government Press Office called the episode “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for The Post, said in an email that Mr. Booth had been detained by the Israel border police for about 30 minutes. “While Booth has now been released,” she said, “we regard the detention of any of our journalists anywhere as extremely troubling.”
A police spokeswoman, Luba Samri, said in a statement: “A passer-by complained that he witnessed a number of people intending to stage a provocative situation and disturbances by young Arabs toward policemen responsible for security in the area, apparently for propaganda purposes. In view of the complaint, the policemen detained a number of suspects in order to clarify the facts in a sensitive and discreet manner at the nearby police facility.”
She added: “When the details of the incident were clarified and no suspicion at all of criminal activity was raised, the detainees were released immediately by the investigating officer without any other steps taken in the matter.”
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “This is a regrettable incident, casting an unnecessary shadow over the work of an excellent journalist. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will ask the police for the necessary clarifications.”
The move comes at a sensitive time for press freedom in the region.
Anna Day, an independent journalist, and three members of her camera crew were reportedly arrested in Bahrain on Sunday during protests marking the fifth anniversary of the so-called Arab Spring, U.S. and Bahraini officials have confirmed.
The rights group Reporters Without Borders put out a statement demanding the four American citizens be released from custody “rapidly and without harm.”
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of the detentions but would not comment on the reports, citing privacy concerns.
A Bahraini police statement said the four Americans were arrested in the Shia town of Sitra on Sunday during protests that erupted into clashes with security forces.
“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 other three were arrested at a security checkpoint in the same area,” read the statement.
Bahraini authorities claimed the four “provided false information to concerned authorities” upon entry to the country on February 11 and 12, telling border agents they were tourists.
CNN further reported:
Bahrain police said they dispersed the rioters in accordance with Bahraini law, further accusing one of the arrested Americans of concealing his or her face “with a cloth and participating in attacks on police alongside other rioters in Sitra.”
The other three Americans were arrested at a security checkpoint in the area, police said.
The case has been referred to the public prosecutor.
Day’s family released their own statement, through a spokesperson:
Anna and her crew are committed journalists who only want to ensure they could undertake their profession ethically and thoroughly. The allegation that they were in any way involved in illegal behavior or anything other than journalistic activities is impossible. Anna Day is much loved and missed and we are concerned about her well being as well as that of her three American colleagues. We hope the Bahraini authorities will release all four journalists as soon as possible so they can return home.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.