Old photo circulates in misleading Facebook posts that falsely claim opposition lawmakers in Sri Lanka joined governing party

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An image of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa shaking hands with an opposition lawmaker has been shared in multiple Facebook posts alongside claims that the photo shows the moment the lawmaker and seven others joined the governing party. The claim, however, is misleading; the image is from May 2019, when Rajapaksa was the opposition leader. The opposition coalition has denied that any lawmakers joined the party in power.

The image was published on Facebook here on March 16, 2021. 

The photo shows Prime Minister Rajapaksa shaking hands with Kavinda Jayawardena, an opposition member of parliament. Jayawardena is part Samagi Janabalawegaya, an opposition coalition led by prominent politician Sajith Premadasa

The Sinhala language text superimposed below the image translates: “Eight of Sajith's MPs cross over to the government”.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on March 19, 2021

 The image was also shared alongside similar claims on Facebook here and here.

The claim, however, is misleading.

The image actually shows a meeting between Rajapaksa and Jayawardena in May 2019, when Rajapaksa was leader of the opposition. 

A reverse image search found the photo published on Rajapaksa’s official Facebook page here on May 06, 2019.

The post is captioned: "A copy of a letter prepared by the Catholic Members of Parliament of the UNP, containing suggestions on how to move forward as a nation following the deadly terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday was handed over to me by Member of Parliament Kavinda Jayawardena."

Screenshot of the Facebook post from PM Rajapaksa's official page

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and the 2019 photo from Rajapaksa’s Facebook page (R):

Screenshot comparison of the photo in the misleading post (L) and the 2019 photo from Rajapaksa’s Facebook page (R)

SJB spokesperson Rasika Jayakody also denied a group of opposition lawmakers joining the governing coalition, telling AFP by WhatsApp on March 18, 2021, that the claim is “absolutely false”.

There are also no credible media reports or official statements to support the claim.