American reporter charged with espionage in Sudan

August 27, 2006|By Tim Jones | Tim Jones,Chicago Tribune

Paul Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was charged with espionage and two other criminal counts in a Sudanese court yesterday, three weeks after he was detained by pro-government forces in the province of Darfur.

Salopek, 44, who was on a freelance assignment for National Geographic magazine, was arrested with two Chadian citizens, his interpreter and driver. If convicted, they could be imprisoned for years.

Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski called Salopek "one of the most accomplished and admired journalists of our time. He is not a spy.

"Our fervent hope is that the authorities in Sudan will recognize his innocence and quickly allow Paul to return home to his wife, Linda, and to his colleagues," Lipinski said.

She added: "We are deeply worried about Paul and his well-being and appeal to the government of Sudan to return him safely home."

Salopek was on a scheduled leave of absence from the Tribune when he and the two Chadians, Suleiman Abakar Moussa, the interpreter, and Idriss Abdulraham Anu, the driver, were detained Aug. 6. All three were officially charged yesterday with espionage, passing information illegally and writing "false news."

They also face noncriminal immigration charges of entering the country without a visa.

Near the end of a 40-minute hearing, a judge in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in western Sudan, granted a defense motion for a continuance and delayed the trial until Sept. 10.

The Tribune learned of the arrests Aug. 18. Since that time, editors at the Tribune and National Geographic have sought the release of the three men, working through political and diplomatic channels in the U.S. and overseas. The Tribune chose to report the arrests after charges were publicly filed yesterday.

Chris Johns, National Geographic's editor in chief, said Salopek was on assignment to write an article on the sub-Saharan African region known as the Sahel.

"He had no agenda other than to fairly and accurately report on the region," Johns said. "He is a world-recognized journalist of the highest standing, with a deep knowledge and respect for the continent of Africa and its people."

Salopek has been in telephone contact with his family and with National Geographic and Tribune editors. Last week he was visited by a congressional delegation led by Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.

"Paul did a very foolish thing coming into the country without a visa, and he knows that. ... He knew he made a mistake," Shays said yesterday.

Foreign correspondents at times enter countries without a journalist's visa. Shays said the violation should be put in proper context, adding, "It's not in anybody's interest - in their or our government - to have this blown out of proportion."

Tim Jones writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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