Indian origin journalist Megha Rajagopalan wins Pulitzer Prize for exposing China's Uyghur detention camps
New York/IBNS: Indian origin journalist Megha Rajagopalan along with two other contributors has won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting that revealed vast infrastructure of prisons and mass internment camps secretly built by China for confining hundreds of thousands of Muslims in its Xinjiang region.
Rajagopalan works with Buzzfeed News, a digital news publication founded in 2014. The other two winners of US's top journalism award are Neil Bedi of Tampa Bay Times and Kathleen McGrory.
Neel Bedi and Kathleen McGrory exposed a sheriff's office initiative that employed computer modelling to identify people believed to be future prime suspects.
At least 1,000 people were monitored including children in Pasco County.
The Xinjiang series won in the International Reporting category and was recognized as a finalist in the Explanatory Reporting category, and the FinCEN Files was recognized as a finalist in the International Reporting category, an article in Buzzfeed News read
BuzzFeed News has been a Pulitzer finalist twice before.
Rajagopalan was the first to visit an internment camp in 2017, not long after China had started detaining Muslims in Xinjiang province, according to the reports in media.
Rajagopalan partnered with Alison Killing, a licensed architect who specialises in forensic analysis of architecture and satellite images of buildings and Christo Buschek, a programmer who builds tools specifically for data journalists.
Rajagopalan worked from London, refusing to be silenced. She collaborated with Killing and Buschek for months as they compared censored Chinese images with unfiltered mapping software to answer one question: "Where were the Chinese authorities deataining 1 million Kazakhs, Uyghurs, and other Muslim minorities?"
"In response, the government tried to silence her, revoking her visa and ejecting her from the country," BuzzFeed News wrote in its entry for the prize.
"It would go on to cut off access to the entire region for most Westerners and stymie journalists. The release of basic facts about detainees slowed to a trickle."
"The team had to go through thousands of images one by one, verifying many of the sites against other available evidence," BuzzFeed News wrote in its prize entry, adding that Buschek built a custom tool to analyse those images.
Finally their hard work paid and they were able to locate over 260 structures that appeared to be fortified detention camps.
Many of these sites had the capacity to hold more than 10,000 people while many had factories where prisoners were forced to work in them.
Rajagopalan also extensively used regular methods of journalism like interviewing the sources apart from gathering proof through groundbreaking technological tools.
After she was ejected from China, she travelled to the neighbouring Kazakhstan where many Chinese Muslims have taken refuge.
She spoke to over two dozen such people who had lived in the Xinjiang camps and convinced them to open up and share their horrendous tales with the world.
Minutes after she won, Rajagopalan told BuzzFeed News she wasn’t even watching the ceremony live because she wasn’t expecting to win. She only found out when Schoofs called to congratulate her for the victory.
“I’m in complete shock, I did not expect this,” Rajagopalan said over the phone from London.
She said she was deeply grateful to the teams of people who worked with her on this including her collaborators, Killing and Buschek, her editor Alex Campbell, BuzzFeed News’ public relations team, and the organizations that funded their work, including the Pulitzer Center.
Rajagopalan also acknowledged the courage of the sources who spoke to them despite the risk and threat of retaliation against them and their families.
“I’m so grateful they stood up and were willing to talk to us,” she said. “It takes so much unbelievable courage to do that.”
“Throughout her reporting, Rajagopalan had to endure harassment from the Chinese government, which had persisted beyond forcing her to pack up her apartment in Beijing on short notice,” the prize entry read. At one point, “the Chinese government posted her personal information, including a government identification number, on Twitter.”