False claims circulate online about Sri Lanka's 'white elephant' Chinese tower as it officially opens

·3 min read

Ahead of the opening of a communications tower in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo financed with Chinese debt, a photo purportedly showing an entrance ticket for the attraction circulated online. Social media users claimed the ticket stated Sri Lankan members of parliament and Chinese nationals could enter the tower free of charge, as well as claiming it omitted Tamil, one of the island nation's official languages. The tower's management company, however, said the image shows a fake ticket, and that it does not issue "complimentary tickets" to anyone. Sri Lanka's tourism authority said it had not issued the ticket -- which featured Sri Lanka's national emblem -- adding that it had no jurisdiction over the tower.

The image was posted here on Facebook on September 14, 2022. It has been shared dozens of times.

The post's Sinhala-language caption translates as: "The ticket of the Lotus Tower in the latest official language of Sri Lanka / Why do Parliamentarians and Chinese Nationals get a free ticket?/ Why do Sri Lankans have to pay an entrance fee to go in?"

The photo seems to show a ticket -- apparently issued by Sri Lanka's Tourism Development Authority -- for the Colombo Lotus Tower. It bears the Sri Lankan and Chinese national emblems.

The purple and green communications tower, funded by Chinese loans and plagued by corruption claims, has been branded a "white elephant", AFP reported.

The purported ticket includes text in English, Sinhala and Chinese, but omits Tamil, one of Sri Lanka's official languages.

A block of text on the ticket also states children under five, Sri Lankan members of parliament and Chinese nationals holding a valid passport can enter the Lotus Tower for free.

Screenshot of the false post, taken September 14, 2022

 

Completed in 2019,  the tower has become a symbol of the ousted Rajapaksa clan's closeness to Beijing.

The claims circulated online one day before the scheduled opening of the tower's observation deck to the general public.

The image was also shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook here and here; and on Twitter here and here.

However, the claim is false.

Fake ticket

Colombo Lotus Tower Management Company chief executive Prasad Samarasinghe told AFP the ticket shown in the posts was "fake".

"There are no complimentary tickets either," he said. "There will be a charge of 500 rupees ($1.30) from adults, 200 rupees from children and $20 from foreigners as an entrance fee."

Samarasinghe also sent AFP images of authentic tickets that were due to be issued to the tower's visitors from September 15:

Screenshot of the authentic versions of the Lotus Tower entrance tickets that will be issued to the public

The purported ticket in the false posts features the name of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

However, tweeting an image of the fake ticket on September 14, 2022, the authority said it did not have any jurisdiction over the Lotus Tower, as shown below:

The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka also tweeted that the ticket seen in the posts shared online was a forgery.

QR codes embedded in the photo of the purported entrance ticket did not lead to any websites related to the Lotus Tower.

They instead link to a Google search for the phrase "Srilanka fuel".