South Korean politician did not 'refuse to bow' during military ceremony

South Korean politician Han Dong-hoon came under fire online over a photo that posts falsely said showed he "refused to bow" at a memorial service for soldiers killed in a 2002 naval skirmish with North Korea. The photo was in fact taken a split second before Han bowed alongside fellow politicians, as seen in video footage of the ceremony captured by multiple news agencies.

"Han Dong-hoon attended the event but refused to bow," read a Korean-language Facebook post that shared the photo on June 30, 2024.

"Is this what he calls being on eye-level with the public?"

The picture shows politicians from South Korea's ruling People Power Party (PPP) at a ceremony on June 29 to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong.

During the naval skirmish in 2002, South Korean troops repelled a surprise attack by North Korea, at the cost of six South Korean sailors (archived link).

Han is pictured standing up straight while others bow their heads.

The post also accused Han -- a former justice minister in President Yoon Suk Yeol's cabinet and ex-interim leader of the PPP --- of harbouring sympathies toward liberals.

It surfaced as he prepared to mount a formal challenge for the party's leadership, despite heading it to a devastating defeat in April parliamentary election (archived link).

Screenshot of the false post shared on Facebook, captured July 2, 2024

The photo was shared in similar posts here, here and here on South Korean forum Naver Band.

Through a reverse image search, AFP found the original photo was shot by South Korean news organisation Newsis at the memorial event (archived link).

But the photo shows the moment before Han bowed during the ceremony, as seen by live footage broadcasting the event.

Live footage 

Keyword searches on YouTube found live footage of the ceremony streamed by local broadcaster JTBC (archived link). 

The video's 22:33 timestamp clearly shows Han, standing in the back row among the ruling party politicians, bowing towards the memorial altar as a mark of respect toward the fallen troops. 

Below is a screenshot comparison between the photo shared in false posts (left) and scenes showing Han bowing during the ceremony (centre, right). AFP marked Han's location in red:

Screenshot comparison between the photo in the false posts (left) and scenes showing Han bowing during the ceremony (centre, right)

Han also made an individual gesture of respect towards the fallen troops in front of their memorial, as seen in the footage's 27:40 second mark.

The ceremony was also aired live by public broadcaster KBS, which also showed Han lowering his head with the other politicians at the 2:29:50 mark (archived link).

AFP has previously debunked misinformation targeting Han here and here.

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