A trio of Israeli filmmakers, including a Columbia University graduate, shooting a documentary in Nigeria about obscure Jewish communities were arrested after they allegedly came into contact with anti-government separatists, reports said Wednesday.
The arrests of Rudy Rochman, who founded the university’s Students Supporting Israel activist group, Andrew (Noam) Leibman and Edouard David Benaym were confirmed by Israel’s Foreign Ministry but the reason for the detainment and their charges were not released, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We are not yet sure what they are accused of, but we are in touch with them and with their families and we are following up with the Nigerian authorities regarding this issue,” the agency told the outlet.
The filmmakers were not involved in separatist activities but members of those groups had shared photos of them on social media that upset Nigerian authorities, an Israeli diplomatic source told the outlet.
The group had been working on a documentary titled “We Were Never Lost” about lesser-known Jewish communities in far-flung parts of the world, including Africa, China, Afghanistan and India. The crew had been working on the film for over a year and had been in Nigeria since July 6.
On July 7, the group visited the Igbo community, a Jewish group that considers themselves one of the lost tribes of Israel, and had gifted Igbo King Eze Chukwuemeka Eri a Torah scroll, which Rochman posted to his social media accounts.
The images ended up spreading among “non-state political groups” and taking on a political connotation even though the event wasn’t intended to be perceived as such, according to a statement released by the family.
“This documentary is not intended to make any political statements about the countries in which filming will take place, nor does the filmmaking team endorse any political movements,” the statement said.
“The filmmaking crew acts as a guest visiting the country and its various communities — there are no political overtones.”
Some of the Igbo people have been in conflict with the Nigerian government since 1967, when they declared independence from the nation, sparking a 30-month civil war that left over a million dead.
The conflict never completely ended and last November, six Igbo synagogues were demolished by Nigerian soldiers.
Relatives of the filmmakers said they are working with the embassies of the US, France and Israel.