Press

Sustained media attention is critical. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have to apply pressure to the Nigerian authorities.

You can read each day’s press release below. If you are a member of the media and wish to cover this story, please contact Aaron Soffin as listed below. We really need your help to get Andy’s story out there as widely as possible, so we’re counting on you to alert your media contacts and favorite bloggers.

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

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COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS (CPJ)

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 USA

Phone: (212) 465-1004 Fax: (212) 465-9568 Web: http://www.cpj.org
Tom Rhodes | Africa Program Coordinator | trhodes@cpj.org | (212) 300 – 9022

NIGERIA: American filmmaker still detained

New York, September 8, 2008—U.S. filmmaker Andrew Berends continues to be interrogated by security forces in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, while authorities have told translator Samuel George to report to security in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, local journalists told CPJ. Today marks the ninth day security forces have conducted day-long interrogations of Berends and George on accusations of espionage.

Nigeria’s State Security Services have not provided any indication as to when Berends or George will be released. They continue to hold Berends’ personal belongings, including his passport, he told colleagues in an e-mail.

“It is unacceptable to continue to hold Andrew Berends in Nigeria against his will and interrogate him every day,” CPJ’s Africa program coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “Nigeria’s democratic credentials deteriorate each day that these journalists are detained. We call on the authorities to return Berends’ passport and to release Berends and Samuel George immediately.”

Military personnel arrested Berends and George and then handed them over to the security services on August 31 in Port Harcourt, local journalists told CPJ. The authorities accused Berends of espionage and detained him for 36 hours after his arrest, then ordered him to report for day-long interrogations every day since. He was provisionally released into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Abuja over the weekend. George remained in custody throughout the week but was also temporarily released over the weekend.

Berends legally entered Nigeria in April to work on a documentary called “Delta Boys,” sponsored by the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute, about the Niger Delta region’s oil conflict.

U.S. senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent letters to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week urging her to ensure the two are released. Berends resides in New York. Christiane Amanpour, a CPJ board member and CNN’s chief international correspondent, also called for the journalist’s and translator’s release.

Filmmakers working on the documentary “Sweet Crude” were detained in April and held on unsubstantiated charges.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

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For Immediate Release:

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

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.

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CPJ News Alert:

NIGERIA: Journalist and translator temporarily released

New York, September 5, 2008—Nigerian authorities temporarily released today American filmmaker Andrew Berends into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, according to his colleagues, who have been in contact with the U.S. State Department.

Authorities in Port Harcourt also released Berends’ Nigerian translator, Samuel George, for the weekend, a friend of his in the city told CPJ. Berends and George are expected to report to the authorities on Monday, the State Department said.

Military personnel arrested Berends and George and then handed them over to Nigeria’s state security services on Sunday in Port Harcourt, local journalists told CPJ. The authorities accused Berends of espionage and detained him for 36 hours after his arrest, then ordered him to report for day-long interrogations every day since, according to e-mails Berends sent to colleagues. George remained in custody throughout the week.

“Nigeria’s democratic government has made enormous strides since the days of dictator Sani Abacha, when dozens of Nigerian journalists were arrested and held under terrible conditions,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Detaining journalists for doing their job is unbefitting of the country’s new leaders. We hope that the ordeal of Andrew Berends and Samuel George will soon be over.”

U.S. senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sentletters to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today and yesterday. Christiane Amanpour, a CPJ board member and CNN’s chief international correspondent, also called for the journalist’s and translator’s release.

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 Niger Delta region’s oil conflict. Berends previously directed a film on Iraq called “Blood of My Brother,” which was screened widely on the international festival circuit and earned a 2006 International Documentary Award.

George is a graduate of Port Harcourt University of Science and Technology and was working with Berends as a translator.

Another documentary film crew was detained this year by the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta region. The military arrested the film crew of “Sweet Crude” on April 12 and held them for a week on charges that were never substantiated. According to CPJ research, this is the fourth time journalists and media workers have been arrested in the Niger Delta on unsubstantiated charges since 2005.

CPJ News Alert

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Sundance Institute speak out:

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Christiane Amanpour speaks out:

“Nigeria’s democratic government must release Berends and George and allow journalists to freely cover this vital story”

–Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent.

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Senator Hillary Clinton calls for Andy’s release:

“Untenable”: Senator Charles Schumer speaks out

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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 lawyer 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.”

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American filmmaker detained in Port Harcourt, Nigeria

NEW YORK, September 3, 2008 – Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist from New York, was detained 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.

Andrew was held in custody without food, sleep, or representation, and with limited water for the first 36 hours. He has been questioned by the army, the police, and the State Security Services in Port Harcourt. The State Security Services has confiscated his passport and personal property. Andrew has been returned to sleep in his rented room each night after the initial 36 hours, but then re-detained each morning. Andrew’s translator, Samuel George, has not been released at night and has remained in custody since Sunday.

The US State Department is aware of the situation, and an attorney has been 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 his safe treatment and immediate release.

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American documentary filmmaker detained in Port Harcourt, Nigeria

NEW YORK, September 2, 2008 – Andrew Berends, an established, award-winning American filmmaker and journalist from New York, was detained Sunday August 31st by the Nigerian military along with his translator, Samuel George, and Joe Bussio, the manager of a local bar. Andrew entered Nigeria legally in April 2008 to complete a documentary film.

Andrew was held in custody without food, sleep, or representation, and with limited water for 36 hours. He was questioned by the army, the police, and the State Security Services in Port Harcourt. He was then temporarily released, with an order to the SSS office at 9AM Tuesday morning. The State Security Services has confiscated his passport and personal property. Andrew’s translator, Samuel George, remained in custody over night.

The US State Department is aware of the situation, and an attorney has been retained on Andrew’s behalf. We, Andrew’s friends, family, and colleagues, are deeply concerned that he has been held without cause and are calling for his safe treatment and immediate release.

One response to “Press

  1. Pingback: What you can do to help « Updates and news on the plight of Andrew Berends in Nigeria

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