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Sudanese Government Drops Spy Charges, Releases American Journalist

On August 6, Chicago Tribune correspondent Paul Salopek and two assistants were jailed by the Sudanese government for more than a month on charges of spying before officials dropped the charges. Salopek discusses his detention and coverage of the crisis in Darfur.

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     In early August, reporter Paul Salopek, his translator and driver were stopped while traveling in the Darfur region of western Sudan. For the next 34 days, they were held in a variety of jails, first by members of the militia, later by the Sudanese government.

    Salopek and his colleagues were charged with spying, spreading false news, and entering Darfur without a visa. They endured beatings, long interrogations, solitary confinement, and threats with long imprisonment and death before an international outcry led to a pardon on September 9th.

    Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, was on a freelance assignment for National Geographic when he was arrested. Yesterday, for the first time, he wrote the story of his ordeal and of the worsening situation in Darfur in his own newspaper, the Chicago Tribune. He joins us now.

    Welcome to you.

  • PAUL SALOPEK, Reporter, Chicago Tribune:

    Thank you.


    The only one of these charges that was true was that you entered Darfur without a visa. Give us a little sense of what it's like to report in this region.


    In a chaotic region such as the Chad-Sudan border, there basically isn't a border. It's open desert area where you have at least six different armed factions roaming around, including bandits. So the notion that there is control of any kind there is nominal at best, and the only way to get the story is to go there.


    You saw firsthand, through your arrest and then handover, the kind of complexities on the ground, the shifting alliances through what you called a keyhole view, unwanted. Tell us what you saw.


    Well, we were captured two hours after crossing into the border by a pro-government militia. They held us for three days, separated us immediately. My colleague, Idriss Abdulrahman Anu, my driver, and my translator, Suleiman Abakar Moussa, we were held in separate huts, were not allowed to talk to each other.

    And basically we were bargained away, is the sense that I get. After the third day, we were handed over to Sudanese military intelligence for a box of new uniforms.


    One of the places you were held then was called the "ghost house," kind of clandestine jail. Tell us what those are like? Who was usually held there?


    After we were transferred to the Sudanese authorities, they flew us by helicopter to a garrison town called El Fasher. And we were taken in a vehicle with tinted vehicles to what was basically a walled compound inside of a military base.

    These ghost house, that's the colloquial term that Sudanese use for clandestine jails where political prisoners are held, interrogated and sometime disappeared. We had no way to get any word out to our embassies or to our families, and we were held there for 10 days incommunicado.

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