Germans say not guilty of Nigeria security breach

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ABUJA, Oct 5 (Reuters) Two German film makers pleaded not guilty in a Nigerian federal high court today to charges of breaching national security by filming and photographing oil industry facilities in the Niger Delta.

Judge Binta Murtala-Nyako granted Florian Opitz and Andy Lehmann bail on condition they produce guarantees that they will return to face trial signed by two German embassy officials who do not have diplomatic immunity.

Opitz is an independent documentary maker whose film ''The Big Sellout'', which criticises the impact of privatisations on ordinary people, attracted media attention earlier this year.

He and Lehmann were arrested last month in the Niger Delta, which has become a magnet for foreign journalists since armed rebels demanding control over oil revenues launched a wave of attacks and kidnappings in early 2006.

Nigeria's authorities have occasionally criticised international coverage as overly dramatic but this is the first time foreign reporters have been formally charged with criminal offences.

The Germans face five charges including violating Nigeria's Official Secrets Act and endangering national security by filming and photographing pipelines, refineries, oil production installations and ships. They are also accused of lying to the Nigerian embassy in Germany to get visas.

An American woman based in Nigeria, Judith Asuni, and a Nigerian man, Danjuma Saidu, face three charges for allegedly helping the Germans and advising them to make false declarations to the embassy.

They also pleaded not guilty to all charges.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT Asuni and Saidu were not granted bail because Director of Public Prosecutions Salihu Aliyu said he had new information that he wanted to present to oppose bail.

''Late yesterday I came into possession of new and very sensitive information and I want to serve a better affidavit,'' he told the court.

The lawyer representing Asuni and Saidu protested that they should be granted bail immediately because they had been in detention since Sept. 26 and the charges filed by the prosecutors did not contain any detail or evidence.

The judge said she would hear the ''sensitive information'' and consider the bail application on Oct. 8.

Asuni, who is 60, said on her way out of court that she had been held in solitary confinement for eight days and denied medical care for 15 hours after she suffered a severe electric shock accidentally.

The four suspects have been in the custody of the State Security Services, a secret police force.

The lawyer for Asuni and Saidu said he had been denied access to them, while a German embassy official said the two Germans had been able to see their lawyers while in detention.

Asuni has been based in the delta for decades. She runs a non-governmental organisation called Academic Associates Peace Works that has received funding from the official US aid agency, USAID.

REUTERS JK ND1730

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