Nigeria prosecutor questions American's peace work

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ABUJA, Oct 16 (Reuters) A Nigerian prosecutor opposed bail today for an American woman charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, accusing her of using her work as a peace activist as a cover for illegal activities.

Judith Asuni, 60, and Danjuma Saidu, a Nigerian colleague, were arrested on Sept. 26 and accused of helping two German documentary makers film oil industry facilities and advising them to lie to obtain visas. They pleaded not guilty and Asuni says she is the victim of a political vendetta.

The two Germans, Florian Opitz and Andy Lehmann, also pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act. They were granted bail on Oct. 5.

Director of Public Prosecutions Salihu Aliyu on Tuesday sought to discredit Asuni, who runs a non-governmental organisation dedicated to peace in the troubled oil-producing Niger Delta.

''We have been told that they (Asuni and Saidu) are social workers in the riverine areas, working for peace in the Niger Delta.

A noble cause indeed,'' Aliyu told a federal high court in Abuja during a hearing on the pair's bail application.

''But I would submit that this is used as a camouflage for their activities,'' he said.

Aliyu has repeatedly hinted that Asuni was accused of more serious offences than the ones contained in the charge sheet, but he has yet to present any evidence or file any new charge.

In defending her application for bail, Asuni's lawyer said she was a ''patriotic Nigerian'' who had dedicated years of her life to the cause of peace in the Niger Delta.

Asuni has been based in Nigeria for 36 years and has Nigerian citizenship. Her work has included disarmament and demobilisation projects in which Niger Delta militants were encouraged to hand over their weapons and pursue dialogue.

She is a personal friend of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped down in May, and has numerous contacts in government and militant circles.

Asuni has said the issue of what the Germans filmed and her assistance to them was just a pretext for powerful people on whose toes she had stepped to harass her now that Obasanjo is no longer there to protect her.

Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako said she would rule on the bail application on Oct. 23.


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