Bahrain deported two American women Saturday accused of aiding anti-government activists after entering on tourist visas, officials and activists said. The announcement comes amid escalating tensions ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising against the Gulf kingdom's rulers.
The two women, identified by Bahraini authorities as Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, were ordered out of the country after being arrested at a protest in the capital Manana, said Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority. Officials offered no other details about the deportation or the two women.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said the pair are U.S. citizens. The U.S. Embassy said it is looking into the reports. Journalists and rights observers need prior approval to enter Bahrain, but American tourists or business travelers can obtain a visa upon arrival.
Security forces have stepped pressure before the Feb. 14 anniversary of the start of Shiite-led protests seeking a greater political voice in the strategic island nation, ruled by a Sunni monarchy that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The statement from Bahrain officials accused the women of violating tourist visa rules by joining the protests "in order to report on them" for websites and social media linked to Rajab's rights group.
Bahrain's majority Shiites began protests last year seeking a greater voice in political and security affairs. Authorities responded with widespread crackdowns and arrests. At least 40 people have died in the unrest, and some right groups place the total higher.
The country's monarchy later offered some concessions, including giving more powers to the elected parliament. But protesters demand the monarchy give up its near monopoly control of political affairs.