Indian origin Megha Rajagopalan along with Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek of Buzzfeed News won Pulitzer Prize on June 11, 2021, in the International Reporting category. Their series of articles called ‘Built to Last’ on prisons and internment camps built by China for the mass detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities won them the coveted prize. The camps build by China to keep their minorities captive are the largest of such kind since WWII.
On asked how she felt she said “I’m in complete shock, I did not expect this,” to PTI.
She was not even watching the ceremony as she was not expecting to win at all. She only found about her winning when the Editor-in-Chief of Buzfeed Mark Schoffs called her up to congratulate her.
Compared to the old school, leg work journalism Megha and her fellow winners used satellite imagery, forensic architecture, technology, and database journalism tools while investigating for her story.
However, she is not the only Indian-origin journalist to win the Pulitzer this year. Neil Bedi with Kathleen McGrory of Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer for local reporting.
China had just started the detention of Uighurs and other religious minorities. Rajagopalan visited such an internment camp in China in 2017. To stop her poking around Bejing revoked her visa forcing her out of China. They did the same for other western journalists too. Slowy news of such camps became a trickle in the media.
Undeterred Megha partnered with Alison Killing, an architect who specialized in forensic architecture and analysis satellite images of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who aided data journalists.
The three of them poured over thousands of satellite images, spanning 50000 locations analyzing each one minutely to find out where the Chinese were keeping their minorities.
They identified 260 structures they thought to be fortified detention camps. They found the sites to be capable of holding nearly 10000 people. The sites also seem to have factories for the detainees to work at.
Armed with this new knowledge Rajagopalan traveled to neighboring Kazakhstan, seeking out Chinese refugees. Although she could locate them, it was long before they talked to her. Slowly she earned their confidence and they corroborated what she and her team found through image analysis.
She acknowledged their courage to speak to her and reveal the hidden stories which China is long trying to cover. “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,” Gopalan told PTI.
For now it seems that more information about those camps is kept hidden behind the ‘Bamboo Curtain’.
Gopalan’s project was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.