Facebook posts falsely claim video shows empty casket intended for Ugandan Covid-19 victim

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A video viewed thousands of times has been shared on Facebook with the claim that it shows Ugandan officials putting an empty coffin, intended for a Covid-19 victim, into the ground. The claim is false; part of the corpse’s head can be seen at one point in the blurry recording, while the dead man’s daughter confirmed to AFP Fact Check that her father’s body was in the coffin when he was buried.

“Uganda Gov’t burying empty coffins to inflate covid deaths,” reads one of the Facebook posts, which has been viewed more than 3,000 times since it was published on June 15, 2021.

A screenshot of a false Facebook post, taken on June 23, 2021

The video, taken in a graveyard during a ceremony, shows workers dressed in personal protective gear carrying a white coffin as onlookers heckle them in a local Ugandan dialect. About 48 seconds into the video, a man dressed in a navy blue T-shirt moves closer to the grave and is quickly joined by others.

The increasingly rowdy crowd disrupts the lowering of the coffin and demands that it be opened. Someone complies and removes the lid, but the video’s poor image quality makes it difficult to see the contents of the coffin clearly.

The Facebook post claims that the coffin was empty and accuses the government of harvesting and selling human organs while pretending to bury Covid-19 victims.

“There is a huge speculation that human organs trafficking has been carried out massively in disguise of coronavirus deaths. Where do the dead bodies go? Is there anyone that should be held accountable for this mess? And is Coronavirus the one killing people? How can the government prove this? (sic),” the post’s caption reads.

The same claim was also shared in other Facebook posts here, here and here.

On TikTok, the video was shared here with commentary claiming that the clip was evidence that “African governments are hiking Covid-19 deaths for monetary gain”.

Casket not empty

Deep public distrust of governments in African nations has fuelled false and misleading claims since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and proven to be a formidable foe in the fight against the virus. The false, misleading and sometimes unsubstantiated claims range from Covid-19 death tolls to fears about vaccines (see also here).

In this case, the claim about the video showing an empty casket is false. To begin with, a closer look at the fuzzy recording shows what appears to be the top of the corpse’s head 1’45” into the video.

Before the casket is opened and the shrouds covering the body are pulled back, people in the crowd can be heard exclaiming in Lukonzo, a local Ugandan dialect: “They should show him to you, let them show him to you! Let them show you your father, yes, let them show you your father!”

After the casket is opened and the man’s face is revealed to the crowd, they can be heard saying: “Ah, he is the one, he is the real one!” Then: “He is the one, he died of corona.”

Ugandan media reported here and here that the chaotic burial took place in Bunyiswa village in western Uganda. AFP Fact Check spoke to the deceased man’s daughter who confirmed that her family had indeed buried him.

“What is being claimed, that an empty coffin was buried by the government, is not true. As a family, we buried his body and talk of an empty coffin being buried should be ignored and the matter should be put to rest,” Immaculate Masika told AFP Fact Check on June 25, 2021.

She said her family had been briefed by a medical team that had explained to them that since her father, Franco Kabwangana Bwambaale, had tested positive for Covid-19 before he died, there could be no viewing of the body. However, she said drunk villagers disrupted the proceedings and demanded the coffin be opened against the family’s wishes.

“When they got rowdy, the medical team went [backward] and the rowdy youths opened the coffin and found the body intact and [at] that time police intervened and fired shots in the air and the body was buried,” Masika added.

In recent weeks, Uganda has witnessed a spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths. In response, the government announced tougher restrictions, including ordering the closing of schools.