Best of AP — First Winner


AP discovers torture, the rape of girls and the deliberate capsizing of a boat of Rohingya refugees

N, a 12-year-old ethnic Rohingya refugee identified by The Associated Press with only an initial, because she is a sexual assault survivor, stands in her tent at a temporary shelter in Meulaboh, Indonesia, on Thursday, April 4, 2024. N was among 75 people rescued from atop an overturned fishing boat off the Indonesian coast in March. Dozens of other Rohingya refugees died. AP PHOTO / REZA SAIFULLAH

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Looking beyond the body count, The Associated Press found the traumatized survivors who refused a captain’s orders to give him more girls to rape, humanizing a tragic tale of Royingya refugees.

When the boat of about 140 Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Bangladesh and Myanmar capsized off Indonesia, killing 67 people, the media focused on the rescued and the dead. No one understood why or how the boat capsized. Kristen Gelineau, AP’s Sydney-based global investigations reporter, suspected something had gone very wrong; there were no reports of storms or engine problems. She received tips from two sources that there might have been sexual assaults on board the boat, and the captain may have deliberately sunk it. She wanted answers from the survivors themselves.

With Gelineau providing direction from Sydney, Jakarta-based reporter Edna Tarigan flew to Indonesia’s Aceh province to team up with freelance photographer Reza Saifullah, who had photographed the rescue.

The Rohingya are challenging to interview due to their extreme levels of trauma, and the lone survivor of the captain’s sexual assaults was no exception. The 12-year-old girl shared her vital, exclusive account of the horrors on that boat. Over a shaky Zoom connection, a Rohingya translator dialed into the interviews.

The team guaranteed those who wanted anonymity that AP would protect their privacy, and those who were reluctant to be photographed by a man eventually came to trust Saifullah and that his photographs would respect that agreement if that was their wish.

Haunting illustrations by Peter Hamlin highlighted the horrors of the journey that cameras were unable to capture. Dario Lopez-Mills brought the narrative to life with an online presentation of photographs, illustrations, b-roll video and the text story.

Readers worldwide reached out to the journalists, including one who praised them for reporting on sexual violence. She identified herself as a child rape survivor and said, “There are no words in any language to express how important it is for people to talk about these crimes.”

For bringing AP readers the first and only account of the trauma suffered by this group of Rohingya refugees, the reporting by Gelineau, Tarigan and Saifullah is this week’s Best of AP — First Winner.

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