Nigeria releases Jewish filmmakers, ‘held 20 days in horrendous conditions’

After visiting Jewish Igbo community, the three were detained for nearly three weeks for allegedly supporting a general Igbo separatist movement.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Jewish documentary team landed back in Israel Thursday morning after being released by the Nigerian government, which held them for nearly three weeks for allegedly supporting a violent rebel group in the country.

Upon gaining their freedom Wednesday, Rudy Rochman, a prominent pro-Israel social media influencer, filmmaker Andrew (Noam) Leibman, and reporter Edouard David Benaym described their ordeal in a press statement.

They had been “wrongfully taken” early in the morning on July 9th by “over a dozen” agents of the Nigerian internal security service “with black ski mask at gun point,” they said.

They were then “caged and held for 20 days in horrendous conditions, locked into a small cell, sleeping on the floor with no access to showers or clean clothes. They were interrogated and mistreated without ever officially being arrested or accused of anything.”

The Nigerian authorities allowed the men to receive kosher food through the local Chabad center and took Benaym to the French embassy at one point to receive some medical treatment.

The trio had traveled to the western African state in early July as part of their documentary series on emerging Jewish communities on the continent. The Igbo tribe in Nigeria claim to be descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were exiled by the Assyrian Empire years before the First Temple was destroyed.

Although they have taken on many Jewish practices over recent years and have the support of the Shavei Israel organization that reaches out to “lost” or “hidden” Jews throughout the world, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has yet to recognize their claim to be Jewish and they cannot immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

Rochman and his crew brought a Torah scroll among other Judaica items to the community in the Biafran region when they arrived to record their religious and cultural Jewish way of life. After two days of filming, the statement said, “Nigerian bloggers started hijacking images” from the documentary’s website “and fabricated an association between the Israeli crew to separatist movements in Southern Nigeria, likely in order to gain more publicity.”

After the team’s arrest, the men’s families charged that “members of non-state political groups” were trying to twist the gift-giving into being a sign of support for the region’s long-standing separatist movement.

“There are no political overtones” to their trip, the families said, and hoped that the Nigerian authorities would soon be convinced of their innocence.

As Rochman and Leibman are Israeli-American and Benaym is French-Israeli, all three embassies worked on their case, ultimately succeeding in obtaining the documentary team’s release. The trio’s statement thanked the diplomats “and many caring individuals who helped in the process” of clearing the men “of any and all suspicion.”

After breaking diplomatic relations with Israel following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Abuja renewed its ties with Jerusalem in 1992. The two countries cooperate in the fight against Islamic terrorism, which in Nigeria manifests itself in the Boko Haram radical group. Israel also helps Nigeria in the fields of agriculture, technological innovation and medicine, among others.