This 2019 photo has been doctored to include a COVID-19 reference

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A photo has been shared hundreds of times in multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim it shows a placard with a message congratulating Sri Lankan leaders for "eradicating" the novel coronavirus. The claim is false; the photo has been doctored to include a COVID-19 reference; the original photo of a political placard was taken by AFP in November 2019 following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory.

This Facebook post published on May 11, 2020 includes the misleading photo. It has been shared more than 350 times.

It shows a red placard with images of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Sinhala-language text at the top left-hand corner of the placard reads: “Our wishes to the president and the prime minister for eradicating corona from Lanka”.

A screenshot taken on May 11, 2020, of the misleading post by අලුත් රටක්

The post's Sinhala-language caption translates to English as: “What became of Shavendra Silva, Ajith Rohana and Anil Jasinghe / This is what happened to the war victory too”. 

Army commander Shavendra Silva, Deputy Inspector General Ajith Rohana and Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe are all members of Sri Lanka’s National Operation Centre for Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), which was established in March 2020 against the pandemic. 

Similar claims have been made on Facebook alongside an identical image, as seen here, here, here, here and here

It was also shared on Twitter here and here with a similar claim. 

However, the claims are false; the placard in the photo has been doctored to include the message about COVID-19. 

A reverse image search on Google found the original photo published in this article published on November 18, 2019 by Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper based in Saudi Arabia. The report's headline reads: “Rajapaksa wins Sri Lanka Presidency by big margin”. 

A screenshot of the original photo in the news article

The photograph was credited to AFP. It can be found on AFP’s archive here.

A screenshot taken on May 12, 2020, of an AFP archive photo

The photo's caption states: “Supporters of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa carry cut-out placards to celebrate in Colombo on November 17, 2019. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory on November 17 in Sri Lanka's presidential elections seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people. Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP”. 

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading posts (L) and the AFP photo (R) with edited areas circled in yellow by AFP: 

Screenshot comparison between the AFP photo (R) and the image in the misleading post (L) with edited areas circled in yellow by AFP

As of May 13, 2020, Sri Lanka has not eradicated COVID-19. According to data published by the Health Promotion Bureau, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was 889; including nine deaths; 117 "suspected and hospitalised"; and 366 "recovered and discharged".