Altered video of ex-Sri Lankan president in 2017 circulates in posts about him fleeing to Maldives

·3 min read

A video of Sri Lanka's former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been viewed thousands of times in posts that claim it shows him being berated by onlookers as he arrived in the Maldives after months of protests prompted him to flee Sri Lanka. Although Rajapaksa and his wife did flee the island nation for the Maldives by military aircraft on July 13, the video has been shared in a misleading context. AFP found an earlier version of the clip that does not include the sound of a man heckling Rajapaksa in Tamil-language. The original footage actually shows the now-disgraced leader arriving in Sri Lanka in 2017, more than two years before he was elected president.

The one-minute 19-second video was shared in this Facebook post on July 13, 2022. It has been viewed more than 4,000 times.

The post's Sinhala-language caption translates to English as: "The Maldivians have extended a warm welcome to Mr Gotabaya."

In the clip, a male voice can be heard berating the former Sri Lankan President in Tamil-language, one of the official languages of Sri Lanka.

His comments in part translate to English as: "You low-life! How much money have we wasted on you! How much of our money have you wasted on good food and enjoy luxuries?"

The first 40 seconds of the video show Rajapaksa leaving a building with his wife and several other people.

At the video's 41-second mark, it cuts to different footage of what appears to be protesters inside Sri Lanka's colonial-era presidential palace after they stormed it on July 9.

The footage is similar to other user-generated content verified by AFP of protesters storming the palace on July 9. AFP reported on the events here.   

Screenshot of the Facebok post captured on June 17, 2022

The video in the misleading post circulated online on the same day Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives following months of anti-government protests.

He later flew to Singapore on July 14 before officially resigning the next day.

Six-time premier Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president by Sri Lanka's parliament on July 20, AFP reported.

The same video was shared repeatedly alongside a similar claim in multiple Facebook posts here, here and here.

The claim is misleading; the video featuring Rajapaksa is from 2017, more than two years before he was elected president.

Unrelated clip

A closer analysis of the video found it was taken from local television channel Ada Derana. The channel's logo appears in the top right-hand corner of the frame.

A keyword search on Google subsequently found this news clip from October 17, 2017, which includes footage that directly corresponds with the first 40 seconds of the video in the misleading posts.

The corresponding section begins from the YouTube video's 28-second mark.

The YouTube video's title reads: "Rumours disspelled; Gotabaya Rajapaksa returns to Sri Lanka".

The video refers to speculation in 2017 that the former defence secretary would be arrested over an alleged misappropriation of state funds following the construction of the D.A. Rajapaksa memorial and museum in southern Sri Lanka -- an establishment constructed to remember his father.

Speaking in Sinhala, the narrator says although there were rumours that Rajapaksa would be arrested as soon as he arrived in Sri Lanka following a trip to the US, he was not detained.

According to the clip, the footage was filmed as Rajapaksa left Bandaranaike International Airport.

In contrast to the misleading posts, the earlier footage does not contain audio of a man heckling Rajapaksa in Tamil-language.

Below are screenshot comparisons of keyframes in the misleading video (left) and the YouTube video (right):

Screenshot comparison of the keyframes of the misleading video (L) and the Youtube video (R)

At the 28-second mark of the YouTube video, former Sri Lankan minister Nalaka Godahewa can be seen walking alongside Rajapaksa.

Godahewa told AFP that the video shows an incident from 2017.

"That is from 2017, many years before he was elected president," he said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting