KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's president agreed Friday to release a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and two Chadians jailed on charges of espionage after meeting with a U.S. governor, a spokesman for the governor said.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico secured the release of Chicago Tribune journalist Paul Salopek, his driver and interpreter on humanitarian grounds after meeting with President Omar al-Bashir at the president's palace soon after the governor arrived in Khartoum, said Richardson's spokesman Pahl Shipley.
Richardson was scheduled on Saturday to pick up Salopek and his colleagues who were in custody in the war-torn region of Darfur.
"I emphasized to the President that releasing these men was the right thing to do because Paul Salopek is not a spy, he is my constituent and a respected journalist who was attempting to do his job telling the story of the people, culture and history of the sub-Saharan region known as the Sahel," Richardson said in a written statement.
Salopek, who has a home in New Mexico, was on assignment for National Geographic magazine when he was arrested last month and charged with espionage, passing information illegally, writing "false news" and entering the African country without a visa. His trial was set to begin Sunday.
His wife, Linda, had traveled with Richardson to Sudan to help secure his release, Shipley said.
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.
Richardson, a former U.S. congressman, U.N. ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, secured the release in 1996 of three Red Cross workers, including an Albuquerque pilot, from Marxist rebels in Sudan.
Richardson also has traveled to Iraq, North Korea and Cuba to gain the release of Americans held prisoner. Last year, he went to North Korea at the communist government's invitation.