Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 6 News List

US reporter charged in Sudanese court

RENOWNED JOURNALIST Paul Salopek was indicted for espionage at the hearing, but granted a motion for a continuance, delaying the start of the trial until Sept. 10


A Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune was charged in a Sudanese court with espionage and other crimes.

Paul Salopek, 44, was charged on Saturday 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, editor in chief of the National Geographic.

"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 US 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."

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.

US Senator Barack Obama, who is in Africa on a two-week tour of several nations, is monitoring the situation and talking to the US State Department, spokesman Robert Gibbs said from Kenya.

Two US congressman visited Salopek on Tuesday at a police station in El Fasher, one of the congressman said.

"He had a very gentle presence and he was very appreciative of our being there," US Representative Christopher Shays told reporters. "We just told him we would pass on to his wife that he loved her very much and he was looking forward to seeing her."

During the hour-long visit in the police chief's office, Salopek said he was being held in a 6m-by-6m cell with 15 other inmates and no toilet facilities. Salopek later was moved to better quarters, Shays said.

"We were deeply concerned that they had arrested someone and held him so long without letting his family know about it," Shays said.

The Sudanese daily al-Rai al-Amm reported on Saturday that the trial would begin for a US citizen in El Fasher on charges of entering the country without a visa.

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