US "disturbed" by aid worker's arrest in Nigeria

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ABUJA, Oct 6 (Reuters) The United States is disturbed by the September 26 arrest in Nigeria of an American aid worker accused of helping two Germans film and photograph oil facilities in the Niger Delta, the US embassy in Nigeria said today.

Judith Asuni, 60, was charged this week in a federal high court with breaching the Official Secrets Act for helping the German film makers and advising them to lie to the Nigerian embassy in Germany to get visas. She pleaded not guilty.

''We are deeply concerned by her continued detention without bail,'' the embassy said in a statement.

''We have made clear to the government of Nigeria our continuing interest in her circumstances, our concern over her treatment and our expectation that she be treated in accordance with Nigerian law.'' Asuni is being detained by the State Security Services (SSS), a secret police force.

She told Reuters on her way out of court yesterday that she had been held in solitary confinement for eight days. She also said she had been denied medical treatment for 15 hours after suffering a severe accidental electric shock.

Her lawyer said he had not been given access to her.

SSS officials could not be reached for comment.

The two Germans are facing five criminal charges for filming and photographing at ''protected places'' in the Niger Delta and making false declarations to get visas. They pleaded not guilty.

The Niger Delta has become a magnet for foreign journalists and documentary film makers since armed rebels demanding control over oil revenues launched a wave of attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of oil workers early last year.

Prosecutors said the Germans had acted ''for a purpose prejudicial to Nigerian security'' but did not explain how.

The judge granted them bail yesterday on condition that they provide guarantees that they would return to face trial, signed by German embassy officials who do not have diplomatic immunity.

But Asuni and Danjuma Saidu, a Nigerian man who faces the same three charges as she does and also pleaded not guilty, were denied bail after the director of public prosecutions said he had received ''new and very sensitive information'' about them.

Judge Binta Murtala-Nyako ordered him to submit that information on Monday and said she would consider Asuni's and Saidu's bail applications then.

Asuni has been based in the Niger Delta for decades and has dual Nigerian-American citizenship. She runs a on-governmental organisation called Academic Associates Peace Works that has received funding from the official US aid agency, USAID.

The US embassy said she was ''recognised for her efforts to promote understanding, conflict management, transparency and sustainable development in the Niger Delta''.


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