Joel Bisina, the Nigerian husband of a Whidbey Island friend, Mary Ella Keblusek, has been detained by the authorities, with the Sweet Crude film crew, for reasons that are not clear. Mary Ella is a woman on the island who has been active in a number of causes, including the Whidbey Institute's many progressive workshops and film series. She's also the friend of several of my parishioners, as well as myself, and her compassion for others is endless.
I am reproducing her recent email about the situation below and I ask you to hold her and Joel and the film crew in your thoughts and prayers, that the situation might be resolved safely and justly. I will add additional information as it becomes available.
"Dear friends – For those of you who are hearing this for the first time, over the weekend my husband Joel Bisina and four crew members from the documentary Sweet Crude were detained in the Niger Delta.
Below are our two press releases, one from late Sunday night and an update from Monday. If you have a moment, the best thing you could do to help is to disseminate these broadly. We believe the media exposure is really helping.
If you live in Washington State, we’d like you to know that Senator Cantwell’s office has been ‘leading the charge’ and Senator Murray’s office has also been very helpful. So if you feel like sending them a little email of support, thanks and keep it up, that would also be great.
You might also want to check out some of the other media on this story:
Please hold all of us in your thoughts.
Press release dated April 14, 2008:
CONTACT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Leslye Wood, Press Secretary, Sweet Crude Movie
Phone: 206.282.0880 / 206.915.4339
Louise Rafkin, Studio Naga
UPDATE: AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS DETAINED IN NIGER DELTA
SEATTLE, April 14, 2008 – Nigerian government officials finally allowed a U.S. Embassy representative to visit the four American filmmakers being held in custody in Abuja by Nigerian State Security. This is the government’s first concession since detaining the Seattle-based film crew on Saturday morning.
Nigerian officials claim the group is being “detained for investigation” in accordance with Nigerian law. However, the Americans have been denied access to legal representation. Nigerian law evidently stipulates that detainees either be released or charged within 48 hours. No charges have been filed at this time.
Aaron Hellman, a spokesperson for the Overseas Services, a division of the State Department, says that the Americans are reportedly tired but in good health. Hellman said he had no information about the conditions in which they are being held. He said an Embassy representative would return to check on them tomorrow (Tuesday) but would not disclose any details about the Embassy's plan to help gain their release.
Senators Maria Cantwell, Russ Feingold, John Kerry and John Tester are currently working the channels to press the U.S. State Department to get involved.
The four Americans, along with a Nigerian citizen, were taken into custody by the Nigerian military April 12th, while traveling by boat in the Niger Delta. The filmmakers had been issued a visa by the Nigerian government granting them permission to return to Nigeria complete their documentary, Sweet Crude. The film crew has been actively documenting the impact of oil production on the Niger Delta since 2005 and was known to authorities.
Director Sandy Cioffi, along with producer Tammi Sims and photojournalists Cliff Worsham and Sean Porter entered the country legally on April 5th. They were accompanied by Joel Bisina, a Nigerian being held in custody with them. Bisina is the founder of a Warri-based NGO, Niger Delta Professionals for Development.
No communication has been received since Saturday April 12th, 8:30 am PDT. Family, friends and colleagues are making a plea for safe and immediate release.