Indian-Origin Journo Megha Rajagopalan Wins Pulitzer Prize

Darnella Frazier was awarded a Pulitzer Special Citation for her courage in filming the killing of George Floyd.

South Asians
3 min read

An Indian-origin journalist Megha Rajagopalan, along with two contributors, has won the US' top journalism award, the Pulitzer Prize in the international reporting category for innovative investigative reports using satellite technology to expose the prisons and mass internment camps secretly built by China for detaining thousands of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

Rajagopalan along with her two colleagues works at BuzzFeed News. Their prizes were announced by the Pulitzer Board on Friday, 11 June.

Another Indian-origin journalist, Tampa Bay Times' Neil Bedi, won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Bedi exposed a law enforcement initiative that used computer modelling to identify people believed to be future crime suspects. About 1,000 people were monitored under the programme, including children.


The Pulitzer prizes were awarded for the 105th year by a board at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

Pulitzer prizes are awarded yearly in 21 categories. In 20 of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a $15,000 cash award.

Darnella Frazier Awarded a Pulitzer Special Citation

Meanwhile, Darnella Frazier was awarded a Pulitzer Special Citation for her courage in filming the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, in recognition of the proliferation of citizen journalism in the internet age.

Frazier’s recording of the brutal killing by a policeman who kneeled on the neck of the African-American man, while Floyd kept saying “I can’t breathe,” led to one of the biggest protests in the US against police brutality and racial discrimination.

The board said that her video "spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists' quest for truth and justice", news agency IANS reported.

How Were the Camps Discovered?

In 2017, at a time when China denied that internment camps existed, amid reports of thousands of Muslims being detained in Xinjiang, Rajagopalan was the first to visit an internment camp, BuzzFeed News said.

In response, Rajagopalan’s visa was revoked and she was ejected from the country, BuzzFeed News wrote in its entry for the prize.

Rajagopalan partnered with two contributors in London, 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 tailored for data journalists, IANS reported.

Beginning with an enormous dataset of 50,000 locations, the three of them analysed satellite images of the Xinjiang region. For months, the trio compared censored Chinese images with uncensored mapping software.

More than 260 structures were identified, that appeared to be fortified detention camps. Some of the sites were capable of holding more than 10,000 people and many contained factories where prisoners were reportedly forced into labour.

Moreover, as Rajagopalan was barred from China, she instead travelled to its neighbour Kazakhstan, where many Chinese Muslims have sought refuge.


Who is Megha Rajagopalan?

Mark Schoofs, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, said that the blazing Xinjiang stories shine desperately needed light on one of the worst human rights abuses of our time. When he called Rajagopalan to congratulate her, she said, “I'm in complete shock, I did not expect this,” PTI reported.

She added that 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 organisations that funded their work, including the Pulitzer Center.

An international correspondent for BuzzFeed News, Rajagopalan has been a staff correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in China and Thailand as well as in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Before that she was a political correspondent for Reuters in China.

She has reported from 23 countries in Asia and the Middle East on stories ranging from the North Korean nuclear crisis to the peace process in Afghanistan.

In 2019, she won a Mirror Award for an investigation uncovering the links between Facebook and religious violence in Sri Lanka. Previously, she was a Fulbright fellow in Beijing and a research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington DC.

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)

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