CHICAGO – A Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune was charged in a Sudanese court Saturday with espionage and other crimes.
Paul Salopek, 44, was charged in a 40-minute hearing with espionage, passing information illegally and writing “false news,” the Tribune reported on its Web site. His driver and interpreter, both Chadian nationals, faced the same charges.
The three men were arrested Aug. 6 by pro-government forces in the war-torn province of Darfur, the paper said. Salopek, who lives in New Mexico, was working on a freelance assignment for National Geographic magazine during his arrest.
“He is not a spy,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, editor and senior vice president of the Tribune. “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.”
Salopek was in Sudan writing an article on a sub-Saharan African region known as the Sahel, said Chris Johns, National Geographic’s editor in chief.
“He had no agenda other than to fairly and accurately report on the region,” Johns said.
Salopek has made telephone calls to National Geographic and Tribune editors, who have “worked through political and diplomatic channels in the U.S. and overseas to secure their release,” the paper said.
“We are deeply worried about Paul and his well-being, and appeal to the government of Sudan to return him safely home,” said Lipinski, who called the two-time Pulitzer winner “one of the most accomplished and admired journalists of our time.”
Salopek was on a scheduled leave of absence from the Tribune when he was detained. In 2001, Salopek won a Pulitzer for international reporting for his work covering Africa. In 1998, he won a Pulitzer for explanatory reporting for his coverage of the Human Genome Diversity Project.
A judge in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state in western Sudan, granted a defense motion for a continuance, delaying the start of the trial until Sept. 10.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who is in Africa on a two-week tour of several nations, is monitoring the situation and talking to the U.S. State Department, spokesman Robert Gibbs said from Kenya. Two U.S. congressman – Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn, and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y. – visited Salopek Tuesday at a police station in El Fasher.