Image of Sri Lankan rally doctored to add Tamil Tigers symbol

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

An image has been shared hundreds of times in Facebook posts that claim it shows Sri Lankan anti-government protesters waving flags bearing the symbol of the Tamil Tigers, separatist rebels who waged a decades-long civil war against the island nation’s government. The image, however, has been doctored to add the Tamil Tigers symbol to the flags. The original image shows demonstrators at a May Day rally waving flags featuring a labour union's logo.

The image was shared here on Facebook on May 2, 2022.

It has been shared more than 270 times.

The image appears to show a group of protesters waving red flags that bear the symbol of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant separatist group also known as the Tamil Tigers.

The group was crushed by government forces in 2009 -- when current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the island nation's top defence official -- bringing an end to a decades-long ethnic civil war that claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.

Sinhala-language text on the image appears to suggest that protesters calling for "Gota" -- President Gotabaya Rajapaksa -- to resign over his government's handling of an unprecedented economic crisis are LTTE supporters.

"Independent LTTE representation of the non-partisan protest ground. May 1, 2022, Galle Face #gotagohome #prabhakarancomeback," reads the text.

The post's caption reads: "Was there not one [person] with a backbone at the protest site?"

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on May 3, 2022

It circulated after May Day demonstrations in which Sri Lanka's fractious opposition joined together to call for the ouster of Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family.

The image was also alongside a similar claim here and here.

The claim, however, is false; the flags have been doctored to add the symbol of the rebel group.

A keyword search on Facebook found this photo published on May 1 by Thilina Kaluthotage -- a photographer who has been covering the public protest at Galle Face, near the embattled president's office.

In his photo, the flags do not feature the LTTE symbol.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the image in the misleading Facebook posts (left) and the original photo (right):

A screenshot comparison of the flags in the misleading posts (left) and the flags in the original photo (right).

Thilina told AFP his photo had been doctored.

"The red flags in the picture were carried by free trade zone workers who joined the May Day commemoration at Gotagogama," he explained.

"Gotagogama" translates as "Gota Go Village" -- the name protesters have given to the stretch of Galle Face near the president's office.

More photos of the workers' rally were published in this album on their Facebook page.

A closer examination of Thilina's original image confirmed it shows flags featuring the logo for the Free Trade Zone Workers' union, as seen in the comparison below:

The logo in the misleading posts' image (above) was confirmed as that of the Free Trade Zone Workers' Union (below).

The flags can also be seen in this live stream from Gotagogama titled "May Day of the protest! At the protest site!"

Anton Marcus, general secretary of the Free Trade Zone Workers' union,  told AFP that the red flags in the image feature their logo.

AFP has debunked a wave of misinformation since protests flared up in early April 2022 over the Sri Lankan government's handling of the country's economic crisis -- including here, here, and here.