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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof turns Bahrain airport detention into Twitter event

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 7:00 a.m. MST

New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof used Twitter on Monday night to outfox a Middle Eastern government he suspects of human-rights abuses.

The journalist arrived in Bahrain on Monday intending to do some on-the-ground reporting about the Bahraini government’s alleged use of excessive force in quashing peaceful protests. Upon his arrival authorities immediately detained Kristof at the airport for several hours.

“Kristof has written a lot about human rights abuses by Bahrain, an ally of the U.S., so that's why he was denied a visa at the airport,” Sree Sreenivasan reported Monday for the tech website CNET. “This happened despite the fact that U.S. citizens can transit through the kingdom without a visa.”

But Kristof — whose Twitter account @NickKristof has 1.36 million followers — got the last laugh by improvising on-the-fly, live tweeting about his detainment in order to shine a light on Bahraini human-rights abuses. Indeed, he logged 31 tweets and 12 retweets during a six-hour period commencing around noon MST on Monday — the overall effect of which both conveyed Kristof’s rapier indignation while also reassuring the rest of the world the journalist was not in any imminent physical danger.

“Kristof kept his little plight in perspective, pointing out in a number of tweets that Bahraini citizens are subject to worse punishments than getting held up at the airport,” Josh Feldman wrote for the media news website Mediaite. “At one point, he remarked that people are ‘feeling way too sorry for me,’ since he’s not being arrested or anything, he’s just stuck at the airport and tweeting from a Starbucks.”

A couple examples of Kristof infusing humor into otherwise informational tweets:

• "My worst airport detention was Iran, accused of spying. Congo & Sudan also unpleasant detentions. Bahrain piece of cake!"

• "I'm on a morning flight out. They say they'll give (me) my passport back at gate. They're very pleasant as autocrats go"

• "If Bahrain kicks me out of the country for trying to cover human rights, they should at least buy a ticket. Instead, they make me pay."

In the midst of his detention, Kristof found enough time to email Politico: “I’m ok — as you can tell by the fact that I’m on line. They’re very polite, and they acknowledge that Americans don’t need a visa if they have an onward flight in less than 72 hours. But they say that my name is on a blacklist. I’m being evicted in a morning flight. ... They just said it was because of past things. But it’s clearly because of my past coverage of Bahrain. I was here when they first opened fire on peaceful protesters, and then again at the end of last year. I did a video from Bahrain last December that they really didn’t like either.”

After detaining Kristof for approximately six hours, Bahrain officials ultimately made him board an outbound flight and leave the country.

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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