Burma takes pride in its first female Pulitzer Prize winner
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Burma takes pride in its first female Pulitzer Prize winner

BURMESE across the world are cheering the success of the first woman from Burma (Myanmar) to be awarded one of the top achievements in journalism, the Pulitzer Prize.

Ethnic Kachin journalist Esther Htusan, who works for the Associated Press (AP), is also thought to be the first Burmese journalist to earn the accolade.

Htusan received the award in public service along with three other journalists – Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, and Martha Mendoza – for their work in exposing serious labor abuses being practiced in the Southeast Asian fishing industry, which in turn prompted industry-wide reforms and won the freedom of some 2,000 slaves.

SEE ALSO: Thai authorities say fishing industry crackdown intensified

Their investigation traced the supply chain from fishing companies to supermarkets and pet food providers in the U.S., leading to several arrests, the seizure of ships worth millions of dollars and a bigger push for better transparency from food suppliers, including the introduction of legislation in the U.S. Congress.

The team’s reports, which spanned from March until December last year, helped AP clinch its 52nd Pulitzer.

AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote in her nomination letter that the journalists had accomplished two goals that had eluded others: “They found captive slaves, countering industry claims that the problems had been solved. And they followed specific loads of slave-caught seafood to supply chains of particular brands and stores, so companies no longer could deny culpability.”

“With courage, integrity and tenacity, this team of journalists has shaken up the US$7 billion-a-year Thai seafood export industry, engaged governments, corporations and consumers.”

According to the AP’s press statement, the reporters had put themselves at personal risk during their investigations, from being chased by fishing company officials on speedboats to hiding in the back of a truck avoid gunmen from the local mafia.

The team also tracked supply trucks transporting the catch to cold storage and processing factories and traced the cargo to U.S. distributors using customs records and business databases.


The Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press team that investigated seafood caught by slaves. (From left: Martha Mendoza, Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan and Margie Mason.) Pic: AP

A fellow Burmese reporter who had worked with AP, Aye Aye Win, told The Irrawaddy that she was very proud of the AP journalists for their service to the enslaved fishermen who would have otherwise remained captive.

“Their reporting saved fishermen stuck abroad. Their efforts deserve the prize, as their reporting has given not only information, but also liberation,” she said.

After the win was announced on Monday, the internet was flooded with social media posts congratulating Htusan and her team for their triumph:


Additional reporting by Associated Press