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 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."
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.
On Tuesday, two American congressmen in Sudan with a congressional delegation were allowed to visit Salopek at a police station in El Fasher, said one of the congressmen, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays.
"He had a very gentle presence and he was very appreciative of our being there," Shays told The Associated Press. "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 hourlong visit in the police chief's office, Salopek told the congressmen he was being held in a 20-foot-by-20-foot (6-meter-by-6-meter) 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.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins and Cameron Hume, the U.S. charge d'affaires to Sudan, also was there for the meeting with Salopek, Shays said.
The Sudanese daily Al-Rai Al-Amm reported Saturday, before the hearing, that the trial would begin for an American in El Fasher on charges of entering the country without a visa. It did not identify the American or mention any espionage charges. Sudanese officials could not be reached for comment.
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.
Salopek was on staff at Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic from 1992 to 1995. He was born in Barstow, California, and raised in central Mexico, according to a magazine spokeswoman.
Salopek was on a scheduled leave of absence from the Tribune when he was detained.
Telephone and e-mail messages for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington were not returned Saturday.