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Nigerian Court Grants Bail to Detained German Filmmakers


A Nigerian court on Friday granted bail to two German filmmakers held for allegedly breaching state security laws. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that an American aid worker and her Nigerian co-worker remain in custody.

All four defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges when they made their second court appearance in Abuja on Friday.

The two Germans are facing five charges relating to a breach of state security laws after filming what the Nigerian authorities consider secret locations in the restive oil-rich southern region.

Judith Asuni, an American aid worker who is married to a Nigerian, and a Nigerian, Danjuma Saidu, were accused of facilitating access to prohibited places to record video and still images.

All were apparently involved in the early stages of a documentary about the oil-rich and violence-plagued Niger Delta.

Prosecutors opposed bail for the American and her Nigerian colleague on grounds that the secret police have come up with fresh facts described as sensitive evidence.

Public Prosecution Director Salihu Aliyu says he is keen to speed up the trial process.

"For the sake of justice, let us say we have done everything to ensure that this trial is facilitated as fast as possible," he said. "The file actually reached me on October 1st and by 2nd October we had filed our charges and we were seeking that we be accommodated in court."

The NGO community in Nigeria has been shocked by the arrests. Innocent Chukwuma, a longtime associate of Asuni and head of the Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of human rights groups, says non-governmental organizations have facilitated trips to Nigeria by foreign journalists in the past, and she wonders why the authorities are focusing on Asuni and her group.

"All of us involved in NGO work have one time or the other facilitated the work of visiting journalists, reporters, researchers, academics, students who want to do one thing or the other in the Niger Delta," he said. "All of us will be guilty of espionage if that is all they have against her."

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Abuja has said U.S. officials are in touch with Nigerian authorities about Asuni's detention. Germany's ambassador to Nigeria has rejected the charges against the German nationals, saying they are journalists not spies.

The Niger Delta, where virtually all of Nigeria's crude oil is extracted, has become a magnet for foreign journalists since armed groups agitating for a greater share of the oil wealth launched a wave of strikes in early 2006 leading to disruptions in oil production.