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Investigative Series on Xinjiang Detention Camps Wins Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting

| By: Jason Aul

An investigative series funded by Open Technology Fund brought to light the scale of China’s internment of Uyghurs.

A Xinjiang investigative series, funded by the Open Technology Fund, won the International Reporting category of the Pulitzer Prize this past Friday. The article was presented in BuzzFeed, and is the news organization’s first Pulitzer Prize. The series was simultaneously recognized as a finalist in the Explanatory Reporting category.

Open Technology Fund congratulates reporters Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek, as well as BuzzFeed News, for their innovative series of articles that exposed China’s detention of Muslim minority groups. This project aligned with Open Technology Fund’s mission of circumventing censorship and obstructing repressive surveillance by addressing Chinese policies that increase surveillance, censorship, and punishment.

Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek presented research that shined much needed light on the numerous new prison and internment camps built by China over the past three years, underscoring their use against Muslim minorities despite competing claims by the government. The project was the most extensive investigation of China’s internment camp system ever compiled, combining publicly available satellite images with dozens of interviews of former detainees. Rajagopalan, Killing, and Buschek identified more than 260 structures built since 2017 that bore the hallmarks of fortified detention camps. The investigation uncovered a vast system built to detain and incarcerate hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minority groups, and is considered the largest-scale detention system for ethnic and religious minorities since World War II.

The BuzzFeed investigative report utilized Open Technology Fund’s support to create the impetus for more systematic research into map and satellite imagery censorship and tools and techniques to address it, as well as create a rigorous evidence base about the situation in Xinjiang. The team cross-referenced blanked out areas on Baidu Maps (a Google Maps-like tool used widely in China) with images from external satellite data providers, which brought to light areas that had a high likelihood of containing multiple detention facilities.

Following the investigative report, the findings were made available for use by other journalists, researchers, and activists. The full report can be viewed here. The Chinese translation of the report can be found here.

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