Sri Lankan online users fall for miscaptioned image of opposition MP with actress

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Multiple Facebook posts in Sri Lanka have shared an image with a claim that it shows an opposition party leader with well-known forest officer Devanee Jayathilaka, who is critical of the island nation's ruling government. However, AFP found the image actually shows opposition MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake with actress Ganga Jeewani Weliwatte -- not officer Jayathilaka.

The image was shared on Facebook on December 29.

It shows a man and a woman -- both wearing face masks -- who appear to be having a conversation.

A Sinhala-language text superimposed on the image identifies the man as MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the woman as forest officer Devanee Jayathilaka. It translates to English as:

"Brother Anura: The wood was supplied by the comrades from Mahiyangana
Devanee : It's okay, it's okay. Its an issue only if it's panu karanda [Crudia zeylanica]"

Dissanayake is the leader of the opposition People's Liberation Front party, locally called JVP

Jayathilaka is known in Sri Lanka for protesting against the ruling government's plan to relocate a rare tree called Crudia zeylanica to make way for the construction of an expressway.

The image's caption translates as: "Wonder what those who were willing to sacrifice their life for the Crudia zeylanica tree now feel, when they see this?

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on January 6, 2022

The image was also shared in similar online posts here, here and here.

"It must because these truths are coming out, Devanee is nowhere to be seen anymore! Surprising because she was full of drama not so long ago," one social media user wrote in the comments. 

However, Jayathilaka told AFP she is not the woman in the image.

AFP found the masked woman is in fact actress and JVP party activist Ganga Jeewani Weliwatte.

The image was previously shared on Facebook on December 21 by the National People's Power, an electoral coalition led by the JVP.

The image was included in this album titled, "Nice photos of the party conference". The same album shows a photo of Weliwatte without her mask here.

Below shows a screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading posts (left), the original image from Facebook (center) and a photo of Weliwatte captured from the same event without her mask (right)

Screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading posts (left), the original image from Facebook (center) and a photo of Weliwatte (right). 

Weliwatte separately confirmed to AFP that she is the woman in the image and that it shows her talking to MP Dissanayaka.

"That is a picture of myself in conversation with parliamentarian Dissanayaka," she said.

"This photo was captured on December 20 at the inaugural general convention held for the representatives and organisers of the National People's Power at the Battaramulla Imperial," she said.