Fabricated news report targets popular Bangladeshi singer Momotaz with 'AIDS diagnosis' claim

A fabricated news report repeatedly shared on Bangladeshi social media falsely claimed popular folk singer Momotaz Begom was diagnosed with AIDS. Local broadcaster Channel i denied publishing the supposed report which contained visual errors, while Momotaz has rejected the claims. 

"Who will sing in the parliament in future?" read the Bengali-language caption to a post shared here on Facebook on June 5.

Popular folk singer and three-time parliamentarian Momotaz Begom ran as a candidate under the ruling Awami League ticket for the national elections in January 2024, but lost to an independent candidate (archived link).

The image appears to be a graphic card with the logo of Channel i, a private Bangladeshi television channel.

"Singer Momotaz was diagnosed with AIDS", read the overlaid Bengali text. 

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on June 25, 2024

Health authorities in Bangladesh have said the South Asian country has stagnated in controlling AIDS, the most severe form of infection with the HIV virus, despite treatment being free, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper reported (archived link).

Experts also say conservative attitudes in the Muslim-majority country are fuelling high levels of violence, discrimination and stigma among patients.

The image appeared with similar captions elsewhere on Facebook here and here.

Some Facebook users pointed out it could be a false claim, but other comments suggest users believed it was true. 

"That's what she deserves," one user said.

"Praying for her quick recovery", another said.

But Momotaz said the claim is "unfounded and fake."

"I'm fine and in good health with the grace of God", she told AFP on June 30.

Channel i also denied publishing any such report on Momotaz in a post on its verified Facebook page on June 4 (archived link).

"The news published using Channel i online card is not true. No such news was published on channel i online and the news is completely false," their post read. 

The Bengali font used in the graphic card shared in false posts differs from Channel i's regular graphic cards.

Below is a comparison between the image shared in false posts (left) and a screenshot of one of the regular graphic cards used by Channel i on their Facebook page (right), with visual inconsistencies highlighted by AFP:

Screenshot comparison between the image shared in false posts (left) and a screenshot of one of the regular graphic cards used by Channel i on their Facebook page (right)

Reverse image search on Google followed by a keyword search on Facebook found the original photo of Momotaz shared on her verified Facebook page on January 29, 2024.

The Bengali caption with the photo translates as,"Paush Mela and Anti-Drug Folk Music Program at Srinagar, Munshiganj. Date: 28 January 2024."

Paush Mela is an annual fair and festival celebrated in January.

There were no official reports Momotaz was diagnosed with AIDS as of July 1, 2024. 

AFP has previously debunked misinformation about her during the election here. 

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