Group hopes to free reporter imprisoned in Sudan/By William Neikirk
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Sep 8, 2006 - 10:51:00 AM
By William Neikirk
Tribune senior correspondent
Published September 7, 2006, 8:11 PM CDT
WASHINGTON -- Hoping to return with imprisoned Chicago Tribune correspondent Paul Salopek, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson left Thursday on a plane to Sudan's capital, along with Salopek's wife and Tribune Editor Ann Marie Lipinski.
At a news conference in Albuquerque, Richardson told reporters that he would seek to secure Salopek's release on humanitarian grounds when he meets with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. The president formally invited Richardson to come to Sudan, raising hopes for a speedy resolution of the case.
Richardson, who was asked by Salopek's wife, Linda Lynch, and Lipinski to assist in winning Salopek's freedom, sounded an optimistic note.
"We will return whenever we bring him back," he told reporters. Pressed on what he meant by that, he quipped: "My hope is we bring him back before the election. I have other responsibilities. We are going to be very persistent, let me say that."
Lynch, an artist who lives in New Mexico, expressed gratitude to Richardson for his efforts to free her husband. "It is my deepest, most fervent hope that this mission is successful, and that we have him with us on Saturday or Sunday," she said.
Lipinski called Salopek "one of the most humble and distinguished journalists I have ever worked with. He has an amazing ability to really connect with the people he writes about, and there is a stack of letters I hope to show him someday from his readers and people he has written about, asking how they can help."
Salopek, 44, who twice has won the Pulitzer Prize, was arrested Aug. 6. He was formally charged Aug. 26 with espionage, writing "false news," passing information illegally and entering the country without a visa.
Also arrested were his driver, Idriss Abdulraham Anu, and his interpreter, Suleiman Abakar Moussa, both citizens of Chad. Richardson is also seeking their release.
At the time of his arrest, Salopek was on a scheduled leave of absence from the Tribune and was working on a freelance article for National Geographic Magazine. Editors at the Tribune and National Geographic have denied the espionage and other criminal charges, though Salopek has expressed regret for entering the country without a visa, a civil violation.
The three men are scheduled to go on trial Sunday in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state.
The Democratic governor, a former United Nations ambassador, congressman and U.S. energy secretary, has helped negotiate the release of detainees in Cuba, North Korea and Sudan. He said Salopek was not a spy and was only doing his job reporting a story on the people, culture and history of the sub-Saharan region.
"I will encourage President al-Bashir to recognize the essential role of journalists and a free press and release Paul and his colleagues on humanitarian grounds," Richardson said.
The governor met the president and the Sudanese ambassador to the U.S. 10 years ago, when Richardson negotiated the release of three Red Cross workers and an Albuquerque pilot held hostage by rebels.
National Geographic Editor in Chief Chris Johns plans to meet the group in Khartoum. Also traveling with Richardson is Calvin Humphrey, a private consultant who has gone on similar missions with the governor.
"This has been a very trying time," Lynch said. She said she has been able to speak almost daily to her husband by telephone and that he has been treated well. "Naturally, none of this replaces having him home."
"We want him at home with his family; we want him back at work," Lipinski said.
Richardson praised Lipinski's efforts in trying to secure Salopek's release. He said he was assisting because Salopek and Lynch are constituents and because his help was requested. But he cautioned that he could not be certain Salopek would be released.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Richardson is going to Sudan as a private citizen. He added that the department has called for a speedy and fair judicial process and would like to see Salopek return home as soon as possible.
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