Photos do not show Sri Lankan protester 'arrested for clapping'

·3 min read

Facebook posts in Sri Lanka share photos that they claim show a man arrested for applauding protesters at a student-led march in the capital Colombo on August 30, 2022. However, the photos show two different men - one who was photographed clapping and another who was arrested. A police spokesman and a representative for a protest group said that none of the 25 people arrested at the rally were detained for clapping.

"Law in Sri Lanka. What charges do they have against him?" reads a Sinhala-language Facebook post shared on August 30.

The post shows a photo of a man in a blue shirt clapping and a photo of a man in a blue shirt being led away by police.

Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the false claim, taken on August 31, 2022

Members of Sri Lanka's biggest student organisation the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) gathered in Colombo on August 30 to protest against counterterrorism laws.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows suspects to be detained for 90 days without judicial review, has been used to arrest leading figures of anti-government protests that have swept the country amid a crippling economic crisis.

Human rights groups have called on Sri Lanka's President Ranil Wickremesinghe to scrap the "draconian" laws.

The photos circulated in similar posts here and here on Facebook and on Twitter.

However, the claim is false.

Different men

A reverse image search on Google found the photo of a man clapping published in the archives of Getty Images.

The caption of the picture, which was taken by Sri Lankan photographer Thilina Kaluthotage, reads: "A man gets out of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light and supports the rally. August 30, 2022 Colombo, Sri Lanka."

Photo of the man applauding, taken from Getty Images's website

The photo of a man led away by police was taken at the same protest by the same photographer.

Photo of the man led away by police, taken from Getty Images's website

However, Kaluthotage said the two photos show different men.

"I captured both photos but they don't show the same person," he told AFP.

"These two incidents occurred in two separate locations about 20 minutes apart."

He said he took both photos in the Colombo 10 administrative zone of the capital.

Keyword searches on Google found a video of the man clapping in a report by Sri Lankan broadcaster Newsfirst on August 30.

A closer look at the footage shows he is wearing beige-coloured trousers, while the man led away by police is wearing black trousers.

Screenshot from a video of the man clapping (L) and the man led away by police (R)

No arrests for clapping

Meanwhile, AFP spoke to six journalists and protesters who were present at the march, who said that nobody was detained for applauding.

"No one was arrested for clapping," IUSF member Madushan Chandrajith told AFP.

"Our comrades were arrested for protesting. It is a violation of our fundamental rights."

An official from the national police media unit said that 25 demonstrators were arrested for failing to seek authorisation for the protest.

"No one was arrested for clapping, that's a false claim," he told AFP.

"The protesters were taken into custody for violating section 77[a] of the Police Ordinance, which mandates seeking prior approval of at least six hours before a protest march is carried out."

AFP has debunked a wave of misinformation around the protests in Sri Lanka, including here and here.