Sudan Holds Pulitzer-Winning Journalist Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek is being held in Sudan on charges of criminal espionage. He is a freelance reporter working for the National Geographic magazine and was detained while working in Sudan's Darfur region.
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Sudan Holds Pulitzer-Winning Journalist

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Sudan Holds Pulitzer-Winning Journalist

Sudan Holds Pulitzer-Winning Journalist

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And American diplomat has met with the president of Sudan, and the subject of their talk is an American journalist who's been arrested in that country. Paul Salopek is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He was in the troubled region known as Darfur when Sudanese officials grabbed him on charges of writing what they called false news.

New York Times reporting Lydia Polgreen joins us now from northern Darfur to discuss this case. Welcome to the program.

Ms. LYDIA POLGREEN (Reporter, New York Times): Hi.

INSKEEP: So how did Mr. Salopek get arrested?

Ms. POLGREEN: He had crossed the border from Chad in order to do a little bit of reporting for a story that he's working on that's actually not about Darfur. It's about the Sahel region. And he just happened to decide to go into Sudanese territory one day.

My sense is that they were accosted by a rebel group that is now allied with the government, and that rebel group turned him over to government forces.

INSKEEP: Saying that he didn't have the proper papers? Is that part of the charge against him?

Ms. POLGREEN: Yes. He did not have a visa to enter Sudan, and he also did not have travel permits to be in Darfur. These are the permits that are required when journalists - really any foreigners - want to visit this region. Access to it is very tightly controlled.

INSKEEP: He was on assignment, we're told, for National Geographic Magazine. Had he even had a chance to write anything yet?

Ms. POLGREEN: He had not written anything on this subject yet. From what he has told me, it sounds like he is working on a very large piece looking at the life of politics and culture of people who live in the arid band of Africa known as the Sahel. So he actually wasn't even particularly writing about Darfur. Eastern Chad happened to be the starting point for this long reporting trip that he was taking.

INSKEEP: You said what he has told you. Have you had a chance to speak with him?

Ms. POLGREEN: Yes, I've been able to visit with him several times. He is being held in a cell next to the courthouse along with his interpreter and driver, who are both Chadians. He has been able to receive visitors, particularly in the evening. And I've been able to see him several times.

INSKEEP: This is the courthouse in the state capital, of the state where you are?

Ms. POLGREEN: In al-Fashir. Yes, that's correct.

INSKEEP: Okay. And the conditions, how are they for him?

Ms. POLGREEN: The conditions that he's been held in have steadily improved. Apparently, they were in very harsh conditions when they were first held by the rebel group, and then also terrible conditions in a very crowded cell when they were held by the government intelligence. But now they're actually in the custody of the judicial police, and they are in a cell that's used as a holding cell. And I think that the treatment that they've been receiving has been a lot better.

We were able to bring him some grilled chicken last night for dinner, and people have been able to bring food and water and things like that from the outside. So he's able to get access to toilets and things like that. So things I think are much improved from what they were just a few days ago, even.

INSKEEP: You know, I hesitate to use the word normal in a situation where things are so seemingly out of control, but is it normal for a journalist to be detained like this in that part of Sudan?

Ms. POLGREEN: No, I wouldn't say so. This practice of passing into Darfur -into rebel-controlled territory from Chad - has actually been quite common. It's very difficult to get a visa to come to Sudan. It's very difficult to get permits to access Darfur, so reporters have been invited in by rebel groups.

But now something new seems to be happening, and this is a result of the sort of confused situation on the ground, that you have alliances shifting. Some groups are siding with the government, and other groups are saying we're going to fight on. And so what used to be a fairly safe route to come into Darfur has become quite perilous. So this is now the third Westerner who's been detained in this way in the past month.

INSKEEP: Who are the other two and what's their situation?

Ms. POLGREEN: Well, one is a college student who was also working as a freelance photographer in the region. Because he was very young and didn't appear to have a lot of information with him, was - I think under an arrangement reached by the United States Embassy - allowed to plead to the immigration charge and then simply deported.

The other fellow's situation is much, much more serious. He's a Slovenian filmmaker and activist named Tomo Kriznar who has been convicted on charges very similar to the ones that Paul Salopek faces, and is currently serving two years in Shala(ph) prison. Conditions are apparently quite bad.

INSKEEP: Ms. Polgreen, thanks very much.

Ms. POLGREEN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Lydia Polgreen is a reporter for the New York Times.

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