Paul Salopek, who was traveling in Africa to report on the culture and history of the Sahel for National Geographic magazine, was detained by Sudanese authorities and on Aug. 26 charged with espionage in a North Darfur court in El Fashir, Sudan. National Geographic magazine vigorously protests this accusation and appeals to Sudan for his immediate release and the release of two Chadians assisting him.
"Paul Salopek was on assignment for National Geographic magazine to write a comprehensive feature article on the swath of sub-Saharan Africa known as the Sahel," said National Geographic Magazine Editor in Chief Chris Johns. "He had no agenda other than to fairly and accurately report on the region. He is a world-recognized journalist of the highest standing, with a deep knowledge and respect for the continent of Africa and its people."
Salopek and his Chadian driver and interpreter were formally charged with criminal acts of espionage, reporting official documents, reporting false information and entering Sudan without a visa. The men's attorney Omer Hassan filed a motion for a continuance which was granted. The trial is scheduled to begin September 10 in El Fashir in Northern Darfur Province, Sudan.
National Geographic has been diligently working with the Chicago Tribune and many others in and out of Sudan to secure the release of Salopek and the two men assisting him.
In 1998 Salopek won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his coverage of the human genome diversity project; in 2001 he won a Pulitzer for International Reporting, recognizing his work in Africa, including his coverage of the civil war in Congo.
Salopek was on the staff of National Geographic magazine from 1992 to 1995. In those years he contributed to a score of articles, including a bylined feature on mountain gorillas in the wake of Rwanda's civil war (October 1995).
By traveling some 3,500 miles across the width of the African continent for National Geographic magazine -- from the Chad-Sudan border region to Senegal by way of Niger, Mali, and Nigeria -- Salopek is now working to educate National Geographic readers about the various factors, human and otherwise, that make life in the Sahel so extraordinary. These include the geography, history, culture, environment, wildlife, natural resources, religions, landscapes, and humanity of the region. The Chad-Sudan border region is just one small part of a much larger coverage area.
Salopek has continued to report and contribute cultural geography articles to National Geographic on a freelance basis. For a story about the land and people of Mexico's remote Sierra Madre (June 2000), Salopek trekked 1,300 miles by mule. In February 2003, the magazine published his account of Sudan in the midst of civil war and the effect on its people of newly tapped oil reserves.
For the magazine's single-topic issue on Africa (September 2005), he documented the plight of the remnant Mbuti people, who inhabit the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Salopek received a degree in environmental biology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1984.