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Senator Charles Schumer calls American filmmaker’s detainment by the Nigerian government “untenable”
NEW YORK, September 4, 2008 – Hearing of the arrest of Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, responded with a letter on Wednesday to Secretary of State Condelezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release.
“This situation is untenable,” said Schumer. “Mr. Berends, an award-winning journalist was making a film about the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil-producing area where government forces and armed separatists have been fighting for years. Unfortunately, it seems that the Nigerian government thinks that it can conceal the economic and ecological disaster in the region by harassing and intimidating foreign journalists. This is unacceptable.”
Berends was arrested at approximately 6 pm on Sunday, August 31st, by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.
At the time of his arrest Andrew Berends was filming women going to market at the Nembe waterside in Port Harcourt, a public place. Andrew received verbal permission to film in the area from the Sargeant in charge at the waterfront that day.
After Andrew’s initial arrest by the Nigerian military, he was transferred first to the police and then to the State Security Services. He was interrogated by all three groups for 36 hours without access to legal representation, and without being allowed to eat or sleep. Andrew stated that the interrogation was coercive, and that all of his statements to the SSS were involuntary.
There has been no news of his translator, Samuel George, since Monday, and there is concern that he may be undergoing poor treatment at the hands of the Nigerian Government.
The State Security Services confiscated Andrew’s personal belongings, including his passport, notebooks, camera, hard drives and laptop computer. Andrew remains under the custody of the Nigerian State Security Services. Two-time Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker James Longley, who has known Andrew Berends for the last 16 years and worked side by side with him on documentary films in Iraq, added: “Now that more information is available to the highest levels of the Nigerian government about Andrew’s situation and the circumstances of his arrest, I am optimistic that this unfortunate matter will be resolved immediately.”
The US State Department continues to work on the situation, as does a private laywer retained on Andrew’s behalf. Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements condemning Andrew’s arrest. We, Andrew’s friends, family, and colleagues, are deeply concerned that he has been held without cause and are calling for the safe treatment and immediate release of Andrew Berends and Samuel George.
“Of course I am devastated by what my son is going through,” Polly Berends, Andrew’s mother said. “I’m terribly worried about him, and want him home as soon as possible. Throughout childhood and adolescence in Hastings-on-Hudson, Andy was always passionate about fairness. His work as a filmmaker reflects the same dedication. His films reveal untold stories of injustice objectively, letting facts speak vividly for themselves. I am hugely proud of him. I am also profoundly grateful for all the people working to get him released, and for the efforts of Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton’s and Senator Schumer’s offices on his behalf.”