Andrew Berends Released!

From Reporters Without Borders:

Press release
September 9, 2008
NIGERIA

US filmmaker and reporter released after ten days of questioning

Reporters Without Borders is relieved today by the news that US filmmaker and reporter Andrew Berends has been released from Nigerian government custody. Berends was interrogated for ten consecutive days after he and his translator, Samuel George, as well as a Nigerian businessman, were arrested in Port Harcourt in the south of Nigeria on August 31. The translator and the businessman have been temporarily released yesterday but are still scheduled to report back to the security services tomorrow.

“We are celebrating this great news with Andrew’s relatives and friends who demonstrated impressive and exceptional mobilization to achieve this outcome,” said the international press freedom organization. “Their collective efforts brought about the direct and determinative use of American diplomacy to secure Andrew’s release. Now that Andrew’s case is settled, we expect his translator and the businessman who was arrested at the same time to be freed unconditionally as soon as possible. We hope the Nigerian authorities have learned from this episode that it is absurd to arrest reporters in the Delta region and accuse them of spying when they are simply reporting, with permission, on economic and political situations in that country.”

After a last day at the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS, domestic intelligence services) in the capital city of Abuja, Berends was handed over to representatives of the US embassy on Tuesday, September 9. On Monday, Samuel George and the Nigerian businessman were set free from the SSS offices in Port-Harcourt but were scheduled to report back to security officials again tomorrow, Wednesday September 10. They were told they would not be cleared before Andrew Berends’ case is settled.

Berends boarded a flight to Germany on September 9 in the evening after receiving a deportation order.

Today Senators Schumer, Clinton, Murray, Durbin, Cantwell, Leahy, Feingold, Casey, Brown and Kerry joined together to seek Andrew Berends’ immediate release in a letter to the Nigerian President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Andrew Berends provisionally released from Nigerian custody to US embassy personnel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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CONTACT Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions Phone: 917.887.4063 / 212.712.2781 Email: soffin@gmail.com

American filmmaker provisionally released from Nigerian custody to US embassy personnel

NEW YORK, September 5, 2008 – American filmmaker Andrew Berends is being provisionally released to US embassy personnel late Friday night, but is required to return to the State Security Services on Monday for what is expected to be routine final processing. Berends was moved Friday from the SSS offices in Port Harcourt to the Nigerian capital of Abuja. His translator, Samuel George and a Port Harcourt businessman have apparently also been provisionally released in Port Harcourt and must return to the SSS there on Monday.

“Andrew’s family, friends and colleagues are relieved and happy to hear of this progress and appreciate the hard work on many fronts to get to this point,” said Aaron Soffin, Berends’ colleague and coordinator of the release efforts. “We trust that his final processing on Monday will be expedient and routine. We are anxious for confirmation that he is safely on his way out of the country.”

When she heard the news Polly Berends, his mother, said, “Nothing will make me happier than to hear his voice, except to hug him.”

Hearing of Berends’ arrest Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York and Senator Hillary Clinton, D-New York, each responded with a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for Berends’ immediate release. Several other US lawmakers, including Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, have also been actively engaged in advocating for Berends.

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.

Update on Andrew Berends Situation: Schumer calls situation “untenable”


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*****************CONTAINS UPDATES***********************

CONTACT Aaron Soffin, Storyteller Productions Phone: 917.887.4063 / 212.712.2781 Email: soffin@gmail.com

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.”

Free Andrew Berends – Arrested in Nigeria

My good friend’s colleague and fellow filmmaker Andrew Berends was arrested in Nigeria. Please help spread the word as international pressure will help speed up his release. For more information, see this article in the New York Times (full text below).

Let this also be a sober reminder of why it’s so important to fight for our civil liberties here at home. It’s NOT OK for people to be picked up by the polic without probable cause and interrogated without representation or without being formally charged. It’s not just in Nigeria; it happens here in the U.S. of A. too, and it’s just as wrong when the US government or XYZ County Police do it as when the Nigerian State Security Service does it.

Please keep Andrew and his family in your prayers.

LAGOS, Nigeria — An American documentary filmmaker and his interpreter working in the volatile Delta region of Nigeria have been arrested and accused of spying, according to Nigerian government officials and media watchdog groups.

Andrew Berends, a New York-based freelance filmmaker and journalist who was working on a film about the oil-producing Delta region, was arrested on Sunday and held overnight. “They didn’t let me sleep or eat or drink water for the first 36 hours,” he said Tuesday night.

Mr. Berends’s passport and equipment were confiscated. On Monday he was released but ordered to report back to the State Security Service the next morning. On Tuesday he was again taken into custody, released and told to return the next morning. His interpreter, Samuel George, remained in custody.

A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, confirmed that Mr. Berends had been arrested and handed over to the security service.

“He had no security clearance,” Colonel Musa said. “It is for his own safety. If something happens to him, it’s an embarrassment to the security agencies. It’s not normal times in the area right now. The S.S.S. will investigate him, and once they are satisfied they will release him, God willing.”

Mr. Berends contacted two advocacy groups, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and both groups condemned his detention.

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement that said: “Berends was arrested just for doing his job and no other reason. 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.”

Despite its oil riches, the Niger Delta is a desperately poor and increasingly lawless part of the country, where wealth is siphoned away by corrupt officials. Militants demand a greater share of the area’s oil resources and claim to be fighting on behalf of the impoverished residents, but also appear to be engaging in many criminal and opportunistic acts of violence. Hundreds of foreign workers and wealthy Nigerians have been kidnapped for ransom, and oil theft is rampant.

Several other foreign journalists and filmmakers have been detained while working in the region in recent years. In April, four members of a Seattle-based film crew were arrested in the Delta and held for six days on spying charges.

Commenting on the arrest of Mr. Berends, Chris Alagoa of the Niger Delta Peace and Security Secretariat, a community organization, said: “The government probably knows the fellow’s real mission and that it has nothing to do with espionage, but they want to do it to discourage others from coming to report on the situation on the ground. Hounding journalists and filmmakers who want to inform the public is in bad taste.”

While Nigeria has a significantly freer press than most African nations, gathering information in the Niger Delta is particularly difficult.

“We have one of the freest presses in Africa, but there are rules,” said Nwuke Ogbonna, information commissioner for Rivers State, which includes part of the Delta. As for Mr. Berends, he said: “He may have engaged in actions that are not in the national interests of this country. Whether that means spying or entering off-limits areas, I can’t say. It’s for the security agents to determine whether this means he was spying.”

Mr. Berends had visited Nigeria on several occasions and had been in the country since April on this trip. He often ventured into the creeks of the Delta to film in villages affected by oil drilling. Two weeks ago, Mr. Berends said he had nearly finished his work and was planning to return to New York this month. Mr. Berends directed the 2006 documentary “The Blood of My Brother,” about Iraq.