Doctored image merges unrelated photos of South Korean politician and former Japanese PM Abe

·4 min read

Following the assassination of Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Korean-language social media posts have repeatedly shared an image purporting to show a former South Korean lawmaker with her hand around Abe's arm. Japan and South Korea have long had uneasy diplomatic relations -- and the posts criticise former lawmaker Na Kyung-won for appearing close to Abe. But the image featured in the posts has been doctored: it shows digitally combined photographs of Abe from 2017 and Na from 2011.

The doctored image was shared on Facebook on July 10.

Korean-language text above the photo translates as: "The fact that Na Kyung-won, in sound mind, is crossing arms with Abe shows how deeply she worships Japan. This trash is the floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party.

"It seems that In Na's views Japan is her mother country and Abe is like a brother from back home. The Liberty Korea Party is the [Japanese ruling] Liberal Democratic Party's puppet."

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook. Captured July 15, 2022.

The post circulated after Abe was shot twice while delivering a stump speech at a campaign rally in Japan's western Nara region on July 8.

During his term, Abe pursued a hard line with South Korea over unresolved wartime disputes.

Na is a former lawmaker of South Korea's ruling People Power Party, the successor to the Liberty Korea Party, and served as its floor leader from December 2018 to 2019.

She has been accused by some in South Korea of harbouring pro-Japanese views, in part due to her attendance at a 2004 ceremony commemorating the foundation of The Japan Self-Defense Forces held in Seoul in 2011.

The doctored image was also shared on Facebook here, here, here and here.

Abe's photo

A reverse image search on Google found the part of the doctored image showing Abe corresponds to a photo of the former premier alongside his wife published here by South Korean news agency Newsis on May 28, 2017.

Screenshot of the original photograph of Abe and his wife published by Newsis on May 28, 2017. Captured July 15, 2022.

The caption of the photo, credited to AP, reads, "As part of his trip to attend the G7 summit, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie walk to attend an orchestra performance at an ancient Greek theatre in Taormina, Italy, on the 26th."

The doctored photograph appears to be a mirror image of the original.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the doctored image (left) and the photo published by Newsis (right), with corresponding sections marked in red:

Screenshot comparison of the doctored image shared on Facebook (left) and the original AP/Newsis photo featuring Abe and his wife (right), with corresponding sections marked in red by AFP. Abe's photo has been flipped horizontally.

Abe attended the 2017 G7 summit, hosted by Italy in the southern city of Taormina from May 26 to 27.

AFP also captured several photographs of Abe and his wife attending the orchestra performance on May 26, 2017, as seen here and here.

Na's photo

Through a separate reverse image search on Google, AFP was able to trace the section of the doctored photograph corresponding to Na to a report published by The Fact, a South Korean news organisation, on October 25, 2011.

The report includes a collage of two images showing Na with former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, with the image on the left corresponding to Na's picture in the doctored photo shared on Facebook.

The photos' caption reads: "On the 25th, a day before the by-election for Seoul Mayor, former party leader Park Geun-hye and candidate Na Kyung-won walk the streets after their meeting at Na's campaign office at the Seoul Press Center."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the doctored image (left) and Na's photo published by The Fact (right), with corresponding sections marked in red:

Screenshot comparison of the doctored image shared on Facebook (left) and the original photo of Na published by The Fact (right), with corresponding sections marked in red by AFP

Na ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor of Seoul on October 26, 2011, on the ticket of the Grand National Party, a predecessor to the People Power Party. Park was a former leader of the party at the time.

Photos of Na and Park standing together at the same event have been captured by multiple South Korean news organisations, including here and here.

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