Video does not show Saddam Hussein laughing as judge handed down death sentence

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

A video has been viewed tens of million times in TikTok and Instagram posts that falsely claim that it shows the reactions of defendants as they were sentenced to death. The posts say that Iraq's toppled dictator Saddam Hussein smiled as a judge sentenced him to hanging, compared with defendants in two other trials who wept as they purportedly learned they would be put to death. While the video shows clips from court hearings, none of them show the moments a judge handed down a death sentence.

"These were the reactions of people sentenced to death, only Saddam Hussein smiled so sincerely," reads Indonesian-language text superimposed on an Instagram video posted on February 27.

The footage, which has more than 4.7 million views, shows two different clips of defendants weeping, before it cuts to Iraq's toppled dictator Saddam Hussein laughing in the dock.

The Instagram post's caption says: "Do you remember the story of Saddam Hussein, who was sentenced to death for crimes he did not commit? When he was sentenced to death, Saddam Hussein smiled so sincerely."

Screenshot of the false post, taken on March 10, 2023

The same video has racked up more than 70 million views after it circulated alongside a similar claim on TikTok, such as here, here and here.

Teen arsonist

A reverse image search traced the first scene to YouTube video posted on May 12, 2015, by The Herald, a local newspaper in the US state of South Carolina.

The video's caption says: "Jacob Morgan, 17, of Rock Hill, S.C. appears in court for a probable cause hearing. He is charged with arson and murder connected with his 14-month-old brother's death. He reacts when prosecutors claim he intentionally and maliciously set the fatal fire."

The scene used in the misleading video can be seen at the 2:04 mark of The Herald's video.

Local newspaper The Charlotte Observer also reported on Morgan's reaction in court that day, saying he "collapsed to the floor crying" after the judge "ruled prosecutors can move forward with murder and arson charges".

The teenager was sentenced to 15 years in jail in February 2016, but he was released in December 2022.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the false post (left) and the genuine video from The Herald (right):

Screenshot comparison of the video in the misleading post (left) and The Herald's video (right)

Policeman jailed for rape

The second scene matches the 6:33 mark of a news report posted on YouTube by US news programme LiveNOW from FOX on December 10, 2015.

It shows the moment a jury convicted former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw for raping and sexually abusing women while on duty.

CNN broadcast the same scene.

The following month, in January 2016, Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison for the assaults, which took place between late 2013 and mid-2014.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the video in the false post (left) and the genuine video from LiveNOW from FOX (right):

Screenshot comparison between the video in the false post (left) and LiveNOW from FOX's video (right)

Saddam trial

The third clip of Saddam Hussein laughing can be found at the 3:01 mark of a video posted on YouTube by the Associated Press (AP) news agency on July 30, 2015.

According to the video's caption, it was filmed during Saddam's trial hearing on February 14, 2006.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the video shared in the false post (left) and the genuine video from the AP (right):

Screenshot comparison between the video shared in the false post (left) and the genuine video from the AP (right)

Getty Images published various photo of Saddam attending the same trial session.

Nine months later, on November 5, 2006, the Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced Saddam to death for the mass killings of Iraqi civilians.

Footage of the sentencing shows the 69-year-old calling out in anger and interrupting the judge several times as he hands down his verdict.

He was hanged the following month.

AFP has debunked other false claims related to the former Iraqi leader, such as here and here.