Spying Charges: Sudan President to Consider "Geographic" Reporter's Case

John Roach
for National Geographic News
Updated September 1, 2006
The President of Sudan and a U.S. State Department official discussed
the case of Paul Salopek earlier this week. On Saturday a Sudanese court
had charged the U.S. journalist with espionage, reporting
official documents, reporting false information, and entering Sudan
without a visa.

Salopek, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, had been on assignment for National Geographic magazine when Sudanese forces arrested him, his driver, and his interpreter in Sudan's Darfur Province on August 6.

Both his driver, Idriss Abdulrahman Anu, and his interpreter, Suleiman Abakar, are from neighboring Chad (map of Africa).

(National Geographic News and National Geographic magazine are parts of the National Geographic Society.)

Humanitarian Standpoint

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer discussed the case on Tuesday during a meeting at al-Bashir's home about the ongoing conflict in Darfur.

Following the meeting, President al-Bashir said he will consider Salopek's case from "a humanitarian standpoint," spokesperson Mahjud Fadul Bedry told the Sudan Times.

National Geographic magazine was "encouraged" by the news, Editor in Chief Chris Johns said Friday in a statement.

"It is in Sudan's own interest to release him immediately," Johns added. "We will continue to pursue all official and non-official channels in and out of Sudan to ensure our team's health and safety and to secure their release."

At a Tuesday press briefing in Washington, D.C., (read full transcript), U.S. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey confirmed that Frazer and al-Bashir discussed the Salopek case.

Casey offered no specifics on the conversation, but said Salopek is in "good health."

"We're continuing to visit him almost on a daily basis so that we can continue to verify the conditions in which he's being held and make sure he's okay," he said.

Innocence Defended

Both National Geographic magazine and the Chicago Tribune have issued statements defending Salopek's innocence.

The journalist was reporting on the Sahel, the semiarid fringe of the Sahara that stretches nearly the width of Africa.

His assignment was to elucidate the various factors—human and otherwise—that make life in the Sahel so extraordinary, according to the National Geographic statement.

The Chad-Sudan border region is just a small part of the Sahel.

On Tuesday the Tribune quoted an anonymous State Department official as saying that "any observer can easily see that there's no merit" to the spying charges.

In addition, several media organizations, including Paris, France-based Reporters Without Borders, have called for the immediate release of Salopek and his colleagues.

"Salopek and his assistants are media workers who were acting in strict accordance with the rules of their profession. They should be freed at once," the organization's statement reads.

The trial is scheduled to continue on September 10 in El Fasher in Northern Darfur Province, Sudan.

"We want to see him receive a speedy and fair trail," Casey, the State Department spokesperson, said.

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