Controversial reports by foreign media outlets
Last month many foreign media outlets were engaged in the information disorder by misleading reports and using false narration. Different demonstrations and rallies were held, in Ethiopia and around the world, condemning such reporting.
One of the news outlets that published such controversial and false reports regarding the ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia was CNN. CNN published an article with a headline, “Ethiopian rebels edge closer to Addis Ababa, as fears grow over all-out war.” But another piece published on CNN’s website explains that one of the rebel groups claimed to be 15 miles from the capital, but eyewitnesses reported no sign of the fighters.
Another misleading statement was made by Reuters in one of its reports about the ongoing situation in Ethiopia. Reuters published an article on Nov 10, 2021, with the title: “Ethiopia rounds up high-profile Tigrayans, U.N. staff”.
In the third paragraph of the article describing the state of Emergency in Ethiopia, it reads,“…requires citizens to carry ID cards that can indicate ethnic origin.”
It’s a misleading statement. Though the government stated that residents must bear identity cards with themselves during the state of emergency, the current resident IDs don’t show the ethnic origin of the holder. Residents’ ID cards being issued and used currently do not indicate either the ethnic origin or birthplace of a person, as asserted by Reuters’ report.
Aljazeera also published a video clip on Facebook with a title that reads, “Thousands of Tigrayans arrested in Ethiopia”. The text along with the video clip explains that thousands of Tigrayans were being detained in Ethiopia as part of a government crackdown on suspected supporters of the rebel forces. It also showed a video of local vigilantes in an unidentified place somewhere in Addis Ababa and stated that they were looking for Tigrayans.
As per the call from the government, it’s now becoming common seeing local vigilantes guarding their neighborhoods and nearby streets. The intended objective of the call is guarding neighborhoods against potential security threats, the vigilantes ask passersby to show their identity cards to identify infiltrators.
The video clip and embedded message were controversial and seen by tens of thousands of viewers on Facebook.
The article explains that family members of international staff in Ethiopia were ordered to immediately evacuate as TPLF forces claim to be edging closer to the capital Addis Ababa.
It also added, “some TPLF fighters were believed to have reached Debre Sina, roughly 30 kilometers closer to Addis Ababa, diplomats briefed on the security situation said.” It misleadingly claimed that the town of Debre Sina is 30 kilometers from Addis Ababa.
HaqCheck, therefore confirmed that it was MISLEADING, as Debre Sina which is located in the North Shoa zone of the Amhara Regional State, is exactly 190 kilometers far from the Addis Ababa Municipality Mayor Office.
Egyptian magazines and newspapers also took part in the past month’s information disorder regarding Ethiopia.
A post by Egypt Today used a photo in its post from Nov. 8, in which it claimed, “Leader of Oromo People Liberation Front says forces are 40 kilometers away from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.” The Image shows trekking arrayed soldiers, supposedly OLF forces according to the caption of the post.
However, the post was false due to inaccuracies. In the first place, there is no such armed group called ‘Oromo People Liberation Front’. There is an armed group with the name ‘Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)’ that is currently active in the armed conflict in Ethiopia. The group claimed it had taken control of several towns in the western, central, and southern Oromia regions.
Secondly, the image was found to be posted for the first time by Ethiopian Insight on August 10, 2020. The picture was published with a news analysis entitled, “Tigray-federal tit-for-tat threatens trouble”, even before the ongoing war. Therefore, the post was rated as FALSE.
Another Egyptian daily newspaper called Al-Masry Al-Youm published a news report on Nov 23, saying, “Washington pushes three ships near the coast of Ethiopia to help its citizens in case the security situation deteriorates”
A phrase reads in the news, “three ships near the coast of Ethiopia.” Nevertheless, Ethiopia is known to be a landlocked country bordered by Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somaliland (Somalia) and has no coast. This is the first factual error found in the news at the beginning.
Moreover, HaqCheck interrogated the images used in support of the claim.
HaqCheck rated the factual error found in the news and the inaccurate images used to support the claim, as FALSE.
Cannonade in Dessie
There was a claim on social media that the Ethiopian government was using city residents as human shields by firing artillery towards enemy forces from cannons planted at the center of the city. The video was published on Oct 28. The Video’s Amharic description reads, “Abiy Ahmed and Daniel Kibret cannonading in Wollo and Dessie using city residents as a shield with an intention of causing civilian massacre…”.
However, it is learned that the video does not prove the claim. It is neither from Ethiopia nor shows a recent incident in the country. The footage found shows a “Rehearsal for the victory parade 2016” in Novosibirsk, a city in Siberia, southern Russia, on May 9, 2016, dated even before the war began. The post was fact-checked and is rated as False by HaqCheck.
Drone strikes in Wollo
A viral claim by Tigray Television was also fact-checked by HaqCheck last week. The regional TV outlet posted a video footage and claimed that the Ethiopian government conducted aerial drone strikes in Wollo.
The YouTube video had more than 73 thousand views, with more than 1600 reactions. However, HaqCheck analyzed one of the video footage used in the news report and rendered it False.
The video released by Tigray Television used footage was featured in a report by Oromia Media Network (OMN) in support of the news that the Federal Government used drones in its bombing in Wollo.
HaqCheck interrogated the video using a screenshot from the footage and found out that the video was released on Nov 6, 2021, on the official AFP News Agency YouTube channel showing a massive explosion of a petroleum station in Freetown, Sierra Leone. During the incident at least 92 people were dead. According to witnesses, the accident happened when a vehicle in a car accident caught fire. The flames then spread, burning people in cars and on roads nearby.
Covid-19 disinformation social media claim
Covid-19 was declared as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, by the World Health Organization (WHO). Different kinds of claims regarding the Covid-19 Vaccine have been circulating on social media.
On Nov 16, a Facebook post appeared claiming that the Vaccine contains bacteria recommending people not to take the vaccine. The post cautions the audience saying, “Don’t be Vaccinated! The vaccine contains bacteria.” However, any of these claims about the vaccine are learned to be False.
The image was taken from an article with the title “What is Tuberculosis?” on a website called “Tuberculosis foundation.” Furthermore, in an effort to ratify the claim, we spoke to Meskerem, the Secretary of the National task force of vaccine issues, at the Ministry of Health. “The claims are totally false. There are no bacteria in the vaccine,” she explained. Therefore, due to the aforementioned reasons, HaqCheck rated the statement as FALSE.
Controversy over Eleni Gabremedihin and an affiliated CSO
Jeff Pearce, a Canadian author, and freelance journalist released a leaked video that featured a secret online meeting in which celebrated Ethiopians, a representative of the TPLF, and former and current western diplomats were in attendance.
The two-hour and three-minute video was controversial all over social media and the local and state-owned media claimed that the people participating in the meeting are all supporting and working with TPLF.
One of the participants in the virtual meeting was Eleni Gabre Madhn (Ph.D.), a former CEO of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX).
A week before she said that her residential house in Addis Ababa was disrespectfully raided by Police.
Later on, she issued a letter and denied that she supports TPLF forces. In the letter, she affirmed that she doesn’t accept an unconstitutional change of government and recognized the current government as legitimately elected. She asserted that she did not endorse or support any of the views that were presented at the meeting. The virtual meeting was organized by a civil society organization, Peace and Development Center International (PDCI) which is registered in Ethiopia and in the US.
The Ethiopian authority for Civil society organizations on Nov 26 announced that it revoked the license of the organization for violating the laws of the state of emergency which was declared by the Government.
Many social media posts used false images in a bid to support their claims. Here are the claims that used false and misleading images HaqCheck investigated during the last month of November.
Armaments seized by Oromo Liberation Army
One of the viral posts that were fact-checked by HaqCheck last month was a claim that Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), whom the government labeled as Shane, captured armaments from the Ethiopian army.
The claim was confirmed false by HaqCheck’s interrogation of the image. The image was made up of two different pictures. The original image shows a Ural military truck and a cannon. The image can be found in different Facebook posts, from August 6, 2021. Most of the images are posted by TPLF affiliated pages, along with other photos claiming to show captured weapons around Woldiya. However, the image in the post is found to be ‘photoshopped’ from the original picture, by adding up a photo of a group of OLA soldiers over the original picture.
The original image.
OLA advancing to Ethiopia’s capital
A Facebook post emerged last month amid the escalation of the conflict and controversial reports by international media outlets. The post explains that following Kumsa Diriba’s, a.k.a Jaal Marro, commander-in-chief of OLA, order to take control of Addis Ababa, the Oromo Liberation Army is advancing to besiege the city.
The post used a false image to support the claim. HaqCheck has confirmed that it is photoshopped, comprising two different pictures. The first image was posted on July 13, 2021, by a non-profit journalistic website platform genevasolutions.news with the title “UN rights body passes resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region.”
Oromo Liberation Army advancing to Addis Ababa
A Facebook page, on Nov 11, 2021, posted images in support of its claim that reads, “The Oromo Liberation Army has overtaken the Shoa region in Addis. They are waiting for the troops coming from the north side.” The post is published in Somali language by the page having more than 423,000 followers. The image was false and does not support the claim. It was taken from a previous Facebook post made on Sep 28, 2020. The caption of the original post written in Afaan Oromo implies that the pictures were taken in Jimma city before the current war broke out. Even Though we can’t find the second image, a close examination of similar elements and details (a soldier’s beanie, a necklace artifact, a white mark of the asphalt road, and the darkness in both images) reveals that it was shot at the time the first image was taken. Therefore, the post was rated FALSE.
A second social media post claimed that OLA troops were seen on roads that lead to the capital Addis Ababa. A Facebook page that has more than 423 thousand followers has posted an image on Nov 9, captioned, “Oromia Liberation Army was seen tonight on the roads leading to the gate of Addis.” By the time HaqChek’s article was published, the post had more than 1000 reactions and was shared more than 400 times. However, the images were taken from previously published images by a Twitter account on Aug 23, 2021, in which the tweet claimed that Negele Borana town, 587km from the capital, was partially captured by OLA. Therefore, HaqCheck rendered the post as False.
Captured TPLF infiltrators
A post appeared during the month of November claiming that the two men in the images were arrested while spying and infiltrating by pretending to be disabled persons.
The post was investigated by HaqCheck and confirmed to be false. The images were first shared on Facebook, by the official page of the Hadiya zone Government Communication Affairs Department, three hours prior to the claim. The image was shared on Nov 3 as a news report that two people were arrested in the Hadiya zone, who were deceiving the public by pretending to be disabled.
TPLF and OLA soldiers embracing one another
On Nov 5, 2021, a Facebook post claimed that the embracing armed men in the image are soldiers of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
However, HaqCheck looked into the image and confirmed that the picture in the post does not show OLA and TPLF soldiers hugging one another.
Therefore, HaqCheck rated the post as False due to the use of inaccurate images to prove the claim.
A helicopter shot down by TPLF forces
A social media post that shared images on Facebook emerged with a claim that a fighter aircraft of the Ethiopian defence forces was shot down by TPLF forces near the town of Mille, Afar Regional State.
Three viral posts that made a similar claim that TPLF forces took down a fighter helicopter near Mille were interrogated by HaqCheck. The first claim appeared on Nov 11, 2021, on the official Facebook page of TPLF, which has more than 600,000 followers, with a false image that shows a burning helicopter. The post had been shared more than 400 times and received more than 2 thousand reactions within an hour. However, the image was found to be taken from a publication posted four years ago by The Time on Oct. 23, 2016, in an article entitled “I was blown up and trapped by Isis guns”.
A second post with a false image was shared by the Facebook page of the regional TV outlet, Tigray Television, which has more than 504,000 followers. The post claimed that “The Hero Tigray Army took down a military helicopter and burned it this morning at Mille front…” The post had been shared more than 175 times and received more than 1.5 thousand reactions at the time. However, HaqCheck has learned that the image was taken on Sept 9, 2016, and published for the first time on a website with the caption “A Mil Mi-35 attack helicopter during the Caucasus 2016 strategic drills at Opuk range of Russia’s Southern Military District”. HaqCheck rated the two claims FALSE.
A bulk of ammunition seized in Addis Ababa
Another claim that emerged last month was a report that a bulk of ammunition was seized in Addis Ababa during a raid. The Facebook post emerged on Nov 16, sharing two images to support the claim that the ammunition shown in the pictures was recently seized in Addis Ababa. The post has received close to five thousand reactions, over five hundred shares, and more than five hundred comments at the time of HaqCheck’s publication.
However, HaqCheck fact-checked the claim and confirmed that the images in the post do not show a bulk of ammunition recently seized in Addis Ababa during a raid. The images were taken from a previous publication eight months ago. The first image in the post was taken from an article by Fana Broadcasting Corporation Afaan Oromoo page that reported ammunition was seized by the Kombolcha branch of the Ethiopian Customs Commission issued on Apr 15, 2021. The original image can be accessed here.
The second image posted to support the claim was first published in a Facebook post on Apr 16, 2021, with a text explaining that two individuals with over 5,000 ammunition were apprehended in Kombolcha. The original Facebook post can be found here. The post is confirmed FALSE by HaqCheck due to its use of inaccurate images to prove the claim.
Ammunition found inside the headquarters of the Orthodox Church synod
During the month of November, Addis Ababa Police Commission announced that it seized a bulk of ammunition in a warehouse inside the premises of the headquarters of the Orthodox Church synod in Arat Kilo. The police Commission released three images that show a bulk of ammunition.
Later on, counter-claims appeared arguing that the images were false and are taken from previous posts in Somalia or other parts of the world. Most of the counter-claims came from two groups of social media users; the first group seemed defenders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and took the claim by the police as pure defamation against the church. The second group of counter-claims seemed politically motivated and took the claim as a pretext and extension of the ‘ongoing mass arrests against Tigrayans and other dissidents’ to the church.
The counterclaims posted photoshopped images to disprove the originality of the images that were posted by the city’s police and claimed that they were taken from Somalia. The counterclaim posts were later deleted. However, the counterclaim images were found to be false and manipulated.
A day later, the police commission released a short video clip to prove the originality of the images. The controversy subsided later on after the police published the video clip.
Lalibela controlled by government forces
Battlefield claims appeared after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on Nov 22 that he would go to the battlefronts to directly lead the war from there. A number of related claims regarding the status of the town of Lalibela were fact-checked by HaqCheck. The claims were supported with an image. On Nov 23 and 24 a series of Facebook posts emerged showing an image that depicts an armed man in the uniform of the Amhara Regional Special Police sitting near the Church of ‘Biete Giyorgis’, one of the prominent churches in the town of Lalibela.
However, the image was false and taken from a previous Facebook post on Apr 29, 2021. The image was previously posted by a Facebook account by the name Wubetu Yigezawu. The Amharic caption of the image reads, “The temples of St. Lalibela are being heavily guarded by the Amhara Special Forces”.
HaqCheck, therefore confirmed the image does not prove that Amhara regional forces took control of Lalibela, and the claim is rated FALSE.
Commercial bank of Ethiopia offering prizes
A scam circulating on different social media platforms was a link offering a prize by filling out a required questionnaire and sharing the link at least for 5 public groups or 20 people. The post claimed that the gifts would be presented to potential winners marking the 80th year anniversary of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE). The amount of the prize offered after filling out the survey, as it is stated on the sites, is 10 thousand Birr. The site contains the logo of CBE and the branch of the Bank which is found in Djibouti.
HaqCheck has looked into the link using an internet domain finder website called Whois.com and found out that the link was created on Sep 24, 2021, in china with a domain name editjazz.top whereas the correct domain name of the commercial bank of Ethiopia is combanketh.et.
For further confirmation, HaqCheck has contacted the Social Media Manager of the Commercial bank of Ethiopia, Binyam Zewde to confirm the issue. Binyam Zewde told HaqCheck that there is no official 80th Anniversary celebration of the bank. Even though banks prepare a prize program to motivate saving culture among their customers, this is, however, all a scam. Therefore the message circulating on social media is a SCAM.
We recommend social media users be conscious of various content on every platform. They should identify the right pages and sources to understand the intention and credibility of the message they are reading or sharing.
HaqCheck urges international news outlets to be responsible during reporting and take into consideration the sensitive situation in the country and the potential adverse impact such controversial reports would cause.
Information disorder and disinformation tendencies are usually high during a shortage of sufficient up-to-date information. Therefore, concerned government and non-government bodies should avail timely information.
HaqCheck is a local multilingual fact-checking project based in Ethiopia, formed inside Addis Zeybe’s newsroom, now Inform Africa’s Counter Disinformation Project – a board-led Civil Society Organization (CSO) – dedicated to verifying media contents from social to the mainstream. HaqCheck works in collaboration with media outlets to monitor media contents in English and four local languages (Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrigna, and Somali).
This report is produced with the support of UNESCO under the #CoronavirusFacts: Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 in conflict-prone Environments that the UNESCO Addis Ababa Office is implementing in Ethiopia with financial support from the European Union (EU). The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the EU concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO or The European Union and do not commit these organizations in any way.