Image: foreign correspondent Paul Salopek
Candace Feit  /  Reuters
Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Paul Salopek, center, huddles inside a court in El Fasher, Sudan, on Saturday. Salopek was arrested last week and charged with espionage and entering the country illegally, his lawyers and other sources said.
updated 8/27/2006 10:22:10 PM ET 2006-08-28T02:22:10

Journalism watchdog groups called on Sudan’s government to release a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist who was in custody Sunday on charges of espionage and other crimes.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply troubled” over Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek’s arrest earlier this month and the charges brought against him Saturday.

“We view these charges as a grave threat to press freedom and call on the Sudanese authorities to see to it that they are dismissed and that our colleague is set free,” Joel Campagna, the group’s Mideast program coordinator, said in a written statement on Saturday.

Salopek, his driver and interpreter were arrested Aug. 6 by pro-government forces in the war-torn Darfur region.

He was working on a freelance assignment for National Geographic magazine about the culture and history of the Sahel region at the time of his arrest, said Chris Johns, National Geographic’s editor in chief.

“We’re doing everything we can, including appealing to the Sudanese government, to have Paul released immediately,” Johns said Sunday.

Salopek planned to travel across the continent to Senegal for the piece, he added.

Deepening crisis in Darfur
More than 200,000 have died in Sudan’s remote western region of Darfur since the conflict began in 2003. The United Nations and aid organizations have warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Darfur, saying violence has mounted since a peace agreement was signed in May by the Sudanese government and one of the region’s major rebel groups.

Sudan on Sunday rejected a final push by a senior U.S. envoy Sunday to win approval for the dispatch of United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur ahead of a meeting by the Security Council Monday to discuss sending the force.

About 100 Sudanese students gathered outside the U.S. embassy Sunday to protest the visit by Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer who held separate meetings with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol and two presidential advisers.

In the journalist’s detention, Salopek, 44, is charged with espionage, passing information illegally, writing “false news” and a non-criminal immigration charge of entering the country without a visa. His driver and interpreter — both Chadian nationals — face the same charges.

On Saturday, a judge in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, granted a defense motion to delay the trial until Sept. 10.

Sen. Barack Obama, who is in Africa on a two-week tour of several nations, said Sunday the State Department has assured him Salopek’s arrest is a high priority.

“From all indications, this guy is a wonderful reporter, has done terrific work. This is, I think, unacceptable, and I expect the U.S. government to take this with the utmost seriousness,” Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, told reporters in Kenya.

Sudanese officials were not available for comment Sunday. The U.S. Embassy in the capital Khartoum could not immediately comment.

Tension with press
Ann Marie Lipinski, Chicago Tribune editor and senior vice president, has said Salopek is not a spy and urged the government to allow him to return home.

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.

The Sudanese government has a history of tension with the press and aid groups, which have previously accused Khartoum of unnecessarily restricting access, especially in the conflict-ridden Darfur region.

The Darfur conflict began when ethnic African tribes revolted against the Arab-led Khartoum government, which responded by unleashing militias known as the janjaweed that have been blamed for many atrocities.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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