Journalist and media worker detained in Port Harcourt

New York, September 2, 2008Freelance American filmmaker and journalist Andrew Berends and his translator, Nigerian Samuel George, remain in the custody of Nigerian state security services in Port Harcourt today. The Nigerian military arrested Berends and George on the afternoon of August 31 and transferred them to the State Security Services, local journalists told CPJ.

Berends was released temporarily after 36 hours in detention without being charged while George remained in custody, Berends wrote in an e-mail to friends and colleagues. He said he was accused of espionage and that his passport and equipment were confiscated. Berends, an award-winning filmmaker, legally entered Nigeria in April to complete a documentary called “Delta Boys,” sponsored by the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute, about the region’s oil conflict. He was ordered to return to the security offices at 9 a.m. this morning, which he did.

“Authorities continue to arrest journalists in the Niger Delta area in order to block media coverage of the conflict,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We call on the government to abandon these repressive tactics, which deprive the world of vital information about the conflict in the Niger Delta. We urge the Nigerian authorities to drop the case against Andrew Berends and Samuel George and to return Berends’ passport immediately.”

A Niger Delta military spokesman, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, said the military arrested Berends for filming a Nigerian military deployment without clearance, according to The Associated Press.

Berends is the second American filmmaker arrested this year by the Nigerian military in the region. The Nigerian military arrested the film crew of “Sweet Crude” along the Niger Delta River on April 12 and held them for a week by state security in Abuja. And this is the fourth time journalists and media workers have been arrested in the Niger Delta on unsubstantiated charges since 2005, according to CPJ research.

In a separate development, state television companyNational Television Authority reporter Felix Opute was also detained today by military authorities while attending a Niger Delta community meeting. Local leaders were meeting to discuss ways of enforcing a court order that bans the practice of lighting oil fires in residential areas, local journalists told CPJ.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, pumps crude from the poverty-stricken Niger Delta region. Armed groups have emerged since the early 1990s in the region, ostensibly to fight for more oil revenues to support the local community and stop the environmental degradation caused by the oil production. The conflict has curbed one-quarter of Nigeria’s daily crude output, according to international news reports.