Satirical report of WHO chief's 'arrest' shared as genuine news article

·3 min read

Social media posts shared hundreds of times in July 2022 claim that Interpol arrested World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "for crimes against humanity and genocide". The claim, which circulated in multiple languages, was shared in some posts alongside a screenshot or a link to a purported news article about Tedros' arrest. However, the claim originated from a satirical website, and Interpol told AFP that Tedros had not been arrested.

"The Vancouver Times reported the arrest of World Health Organisation director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus by Interpol as he was boarding a plane for Africa," reads the first paragraph in a screenshot posted on Facebook on July 26, 2022.

"The newspaper says he was charged against crimes against humanity. Tedros allegedly is being held in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide."

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post as of August 2, 2022.

Other posts shared a similar claim in Greek, Spanish, French and Italian. A link to the pictured article was also shared hundreds of times in tweets here, here and here.

Comments from some Facebook users indicated they believed the posts were true. "He is a war criminal," one user wrote.

Commenting in Greek, another user welcomed the "arrest", saying it was "news to start the week well".

But others appeared to recognise the claim originated from a satirical website and should not be "taken seriously".

'Most trusted source for satire'

The original report was published on satirical website Vancouver Times. It has since been amended to state it was an "obvious satire story", following fact checks from other organisations.

A further search on the Vancouver Times' website found that its About Us page states it is a satirical website.

"Vancouver Times is the most trusted source for satire on the West Coast. We write satirical stories about issues that affect conservatives," reads the web page.

AFP has previously debunked claims originating from the Vancouver Times here and here.

On July 28, 2022 Tedros gave an opening address during a webinar for World Hepatitis Day -- days after his supposed arrest.

He also posted on Twitter on the same day about a meeting with the director general of the United Nations Organization for Industrial Development (UNIDO), Gerd Müller.

"Pleased to meet with my friend Gerd Mueller (sic), @UNIDO Director-General," he wrote. "We discussed how to improve our collaboration on medical products local production, especially in #Africa. We agreed that technology transfer, regulatory and workforce capacity building are key to this effort."

Interpol told the AFP on August 2 that Tedros had not been arrested. It also said it does not send officers to arrest individuals or issue arrest warrants.

AFP previously debunked the claim after it circulated in Portuguese-language posts.

Tedros has been a target of misinformation during the pandemic. AFP previously debunked posts that misrepresented his comments about Covid-19 vaccine boosters for children, and claims that he was barred from seeking a second term as WHO chief.

Correction: This story was updated on 3/8/22 to correct Tedros' name on second mention.
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