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Nigeria2 September 2008

US filmmaker and interpreter arrested in Port Harcourt on spying charge

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest of US freelance journalist and filmmaker Andrew Berends and his Nigerian interpreter, Samuel George, in the southeastern city of Port Harcourt on 31 August on a spying charge. Berends was provisionally released after 36 hours but was told to report back to the State Security Service in Port Harcourt this morning. George is still being held.

“Berends was arrested just for doing his job and no other reason,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is absurd for the authorities to think that, by arresting him and his interpreter, they can conceal the economic and ecological disaster unfolding in the Niger Delta. Both of them must be freed at once and left alone. This is the third time in a year that baseless charges of spying have been brought against foreign journalists.”

After being arrested on the Port Harcourt waterfront, Berends and George were detained in appalling conditions in a cell at the local headquarters of the State Security Service. They were given no food and very little water, and were subjected to repeated interrogation that prevented them from sleeping.

Berends’ equipment, telephones and film were confiscated. He was freed provisionally yesterday but was told to return to the SSS office at 9 a.m. today. In a brief email message which he managed to send after being released, he said he had been charged with spying. His interpreter was not released.

The winner of several awards, Berends has been in the Niger Delta since April making a film about this strategic oil-producing area where government forces and armed separatists have been fighting for years.

Four US documentary filmmakers and their Nigerian fixer were held for six days on spying charges for the same reason in April. And two German journalists and a US activists were detained for two weeks in September 2007 for similar reasons.

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