- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called for immediate release of an American journalist and his translator who have been detained by Nigerian military in Port Harcourt since August 31, 2008.
Documentary filmmaker Andrew Berends was filming women going to the market in a public waterside area of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, when he was detained by military, along with translator Samuel George.
According to e-mails sent by journalist to his editor, which have been reviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Berends said a sergeant had given him permission to film in the area.
In a strongly worded statement, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes called on Nigerian military authorities to stop arresting local and international journalists on spurious allegations, and to halt its effort to censor reporting of Niger Delta region.
However, Berends' e-mails contradict Nigerian military claim that he and George were filming a military deployment without clearance when they were detained on Sunday.
State Security Services in Port Harcourt detained Berends for 36 hours after his arrest and then ordered him to report for day-long interrogations each day since. George has remained in custody throughout the week.
Berends, an award-winning filmmaker, legally entered Nigeria in April to complete a documentary called "Delta Boys," sponsored by New York-based Tribeca Film Institute, about the region's oil conflict. During his first 36 hours in detention, Berends was not fed and was denied sleep, CPJ reported on Tuesday. His personal belongings, including equipment and passport, have been confiscated, according to his e-mails. Berends also said he had heard that he may be moved to Abuja.
George is a graduate of Port Harcourt University of Science and Technology and has helped with translations for Berends' film. Berends had previously directed a film on Iraq called "Blood of My Brother," which was screened widely on international festival circuit and earned a 2006 International Documentary Award.
Meanwhile, US Senator Charles Schumer has written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday, urging her to work for Berends' immediate release. "Mr Berends has embarked on an effort to raise awareness of and concern for this region and its complicated problems," Schumer wrote. "Unfortunately, in this case, it seems that the Nigerian government's response is to harass and intimidate foreign and native journalists. This is unacceptable."
Another documentary film crew was arrested this year by the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta region.
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