US documentary filmmaker arrested in Nigeria, charged with 'spying'

[Agence France-Presse]

The Nigerian military detained an American journalist and his Nigerian interpreter in the country's troubled oil-rich south on suspicion of spying, a media watchdog said Tuesday.

Andrew Berends, a US freelancer, and Samuel George were picked up Sunday on the waterfront in Port Harcourt on a spying charge, the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF -- Reporters Without Borders) group said.

A spokesman for the Nigerian military task force in the area, Lieutenant-Colonel Musa Sagir, told AFP that Berends "was arrested while filming an unauthorised location".

But the Paris-based RSF 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," RSF added in a statement.

Berends, who has been making a film in the region since April, was briefly freed on Monday, but ordered to return to the state intelligence agency Tuesday, RSF said. His interpreter remains held.

RSF said it was the third time in 12 months that foreign journalists have been arrested in the area on "baseless charges of spying"

In April, four US documentary makers and their Nigerian fixer were held for six days on similar charges and in September last year two German journalists and a US activist were detained for two weeks.

The Niger Delta is Nigeria's oil hub where armed militant groups -- demanding greater control of the region's oil wealth by locals -- regularly attack installations and kidnap local and expatriate workers.

The unrest has reduced Nigeria's oil output by a quarter, causing it to lose its position as Africa's biggest oil producer to Angola, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Berends has previously made several documentaries on the conflict in Iraq.

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