BuzzFeed News wins first Pulitzer Prize for series on mass detention of Muslims in China

BuzzFeed News has won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for Investigating Long-Term Detention and Incarceration in China. The four-part series entitled “Built to last” was reconstructed by Senior Correspondent Megha Rajagopalan and Contributors Alison Killing, a Chartered Architect; and Christo Buschek, programmer and trainer in digital security.

This victory marks the first Pulitzer for digital point of sale. This project was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the Explanatory Reports category.

Using publicly available satellite images, as well as dozens of interviews with former inmates, the unique trio identified more than 260 structures built since 2017. BuzzFeed News reported that China has secretly built these prisons and residential camps as part of a campaign against Uyghur Muslims, although she said the detainees had all been released.

Pulitzer’s announcement called the project “a series of clear and compelling stories that use satellite imagery and architectural expertise, as well as interviews with two dozen former prisoners, to identify vast new infrastructure built by the government.” Chinese for the mass detention of Muslims. “

The news came as a total surprise, Rajagopalan told Poynter in an email Friday afternoon.

“I am incredibly grateful to our reporting team, to our editor Alex Campbell, to BuzzFeed News and to the organizations that have supported our work,” wrote the London-based reporter. “When I first proposed to my editors to work with an architect and a programmer on a China survey, I thought they would tell me I was crazy, but instead they said to go. “

Above all, Rajagopalan added, she is deeply grateful to the former detainees who shared what happened to them in the camps in Xinjiang.

“They did so at the risk of their lives, and the public owes a lot to their courage,” she wrote.

Shortly after China started detaining Muslims in Xinjiang, Rajagopalan visited an internment camp, according to BuzzFeed. At that time, the country denied the existence of such places. The reporter was later forced to leave china.

” I am really happy. … I think I’m also slightly in shock, ”Killing told Poynter on a Zoom call from the Netherlands, where she is currently based. “I’m really happy we won. Sure, it’s a big surprise because it’s so competitive, you know, but it’s also just great that it helps raise the profile of what’s going on in Xinjiang, and helps spread the word about this work. to more people.

Killing owns Killing Architects, an architecture and town planning firm. For the project, she said the whole team was working remotely: Rajagopalan was in London and Buschek was in Berlin. Killing’s contribution to the series included feasibility studies and analysis of satellite images, and she pinpointed the likely locations of the internment camps in question.

Killing said she was cooking dinner when the announcements were made. She admitted to being reluctant to watch the livestream. She didn’t want to get him dirty. But she gave in and followed.

Killing said the profile of this problem has slowly increased over the past year. She added that the purpose of their investigation was to try to show the extent of the problem, of what was happening in these individual camps. And finally, that it is always possible to investigate this kind of problem even if you cannot go to the places concerned.

Reached by email on Friday, Buschek said the victory seemed unreal.

“I don’t think I fully understand what this means yet,” he wrote. “On a professional level, I am more convinced than ever that computer methods are beneficial in increasing traditional forms of research. “

Buschek said he was not aware the announcements were underway. He got a text from Killing and didn’t believe it right away. “Honestly, I had to double-check to understand what she told me,” he added.

From what he hoped people learned from the investigation, Buschek’s hope is that they understand “the dimensions of the prison regime that the Chinese government has put in place.”

“What is happening in Xinjiang is a tragedy of epic proportions. Living in Europe, people often think that such serious human rights violations and genocide are a thing of the past, ”he said. “I hope people will understand that such acts still happen today and can happen anywhere.”

“There is still a lot of work to be done and we have no intention of slowing down,” added Rajagopalan.

“Built to Last” was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.

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