May 17, 2024

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

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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.

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 the Week — First Winner.

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