Editing Old Posts: A Tactic of Disinformation in the Midst of Amhara Conflict

The armed conflict in the Amhara region of Ethiopia has intensified in recent months. The immediate cause of the conflict was the Ethiopian government’s decision to dissolve regional special police forces.

Since then, the Amhara region has been engulfed in conflict and violence, with regular clashes between government forces and the Fano militias. The conflict has claimed the lives of many civilians, and there have been reports of human rights abuses.

In August, the Fano militias took brief control of several major towns in the Amhara region, including Gondar and Debre Tabor. The regional government of Amhara called on the federal government for help, and the Ethiopian military launched a counteroffensive. Later, the House of People’s Representatives(HPRs) declared a state of emergency in the region.  

The government forces were initially successful, and they managed to recapture some of the towns that had been lost. However, the conflict remains unresolved, and there is a risk of further conflict and violence.

Reports of the Detention of Ethnic Amharas

The Ethiopian government has arrested several ethnic Amharas, including politicians, journalists, and public figures, since declaring a state of emergency in the Amhara region on August 4, 2023.

Among those detained are Yohannes Buayalew, a former senior official of the Amhara region, a member of the ruling Prosperity Party, and a member of the Amhara regional parliament (state council); and Christian Tadelle, a former executive member of the National Movement of Amhara party and a member of the Ethiopian Parliament (HPR).

According to state-affiliated media reports, the Ethiopian government has arrested 764 people suspected of supporting armed insurgents in the Amhara region.

However, unconfirmed social media reports have claimed that many ethnic Amharas have been detained in detention centers across the country, including the warehouses in the capital, Addis Ababa, and that the government targets ethnic Amharas solely because of their identity.

These reports have been accompanied by images that purport to show innocent ethnic Amharas facing detention by the government. For instance, a Facebook post (screenshot below) published on September 13, 2023, shared four images claiming that the people shown in the pictures are ethnic Amharas detained by the government in Tulu Dimtu, a town on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The post also stated that they are suffering and dying of contagious diseases in the camp.

[Caption: These are ethnic Amharas detained in Tulu Dimtu, suffering and dying of contagious diseases in the camp.]

The post went viral and gained traction on the social media platform. HaqCheck could not confirm whether the post was true or false. We could not confirm the origin and authenticity of the images presented to support the claim.

Editing old posts

On the other hand, some pro-government social media accounts shared a Facebook post and its screenshot, which indicated that the images were posted a year ago on Facebook and are unrelated to the claim. This was presented as evidence to disprove the claim that the government was detaining ethnic Amharas and that the images used to support the claim were false.

[Translation: These posts use false and old images to propagate false information.]

Below is a screenshot of the old Facebook post that claimed to be the first to publish the controversial images.

[Translation: The Addis Ababa City administration provides medical services to over a hundred homeless people.]

HaqCheck investigated the images and the Facebook posts to see if they were posted on another post a year ago. HaqCheck found that a Facebook post from June 29, 2022, contained the images with an Amharic caption.

The edit history of the Facebook post

HaqCheck found that the old Facebook post was recently edited, and the images were added later.

When the Facebook post was made on June 29, 2022, it originally had an Afaan Oromo caption that compared five “great” personalities who were assassinated: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, and Hachalu Hundessa. The original caption compared Hachalu Hundessa, the late popular Afaan Oromo musician shot dead on June 29, 2020, to the other four figures. The old post originally contained one image, but HaqCheck could not see it because it had been deleted and replaced with others.

[Screenshot: The original Afaan Oromo caption of the Facebook post.]

However, the Facebook post was edited on September 13, 2023. The Afaan Oromo text was replaced with a different Amharic text, and the original image was replaced with five new images. The edited caption of the post now claims that the Addis Ababa City administration was providing medical services to more than a hundred people living on the street (homeless people).

[Caption edited and five new images added on September 13, 2023.]

HaqCheck rated the Facebook post as False. The post was intentionally edited to mislead and disinform people.

HaqCheck recommends social media users be cautious of such kinds of misleading posts. Social media users are advised to check the publication date and the editing history of social media posts, particularly Facebook posts since the platform allowed users to edit posts in 2013.

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