Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land just outside a port of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on October 25, 2017. - Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

Online posts falsely claim opposition lawmakers supported bill on China-funded project in Sri Lanka

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Facebook users in Sri Lanka have shared an image that they claim shows opposition legislators not voting against a controversial bill allowing a China-funded infrastructure project to move forward. The claim is false: the image was taken from a live broadcast of the parliamentary proceedings before the legislators had cast their votes; the full video shows them voting against the passage of the bill.

The image was shared here on Facebook on May 22, 2021.

It purports to show a tally of votes for a piece of legislation that clears a hurdle for the China-funded Colombo Port City infrastructure project to operate.

Opposition lawmakers Sajith Premadasa, Lakshman Kiriella and Tissa Attanayake -- who have criticised the bill in public -- are purportedly shown to have supported passage of the bill as they have “not voted” against it.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on May 26, 2021

The misleading post circulated online as Sri Lanka’s parliament passed the bill giving unprecedented powers to a commission to fast track investment approvals in Colombo Port City.

The port city is a $1.4 billion infrastructure project funded by Beijing. Officials hope it will attract offshore services similar to Dubai and Singapore, AFP has reported.

Western countries and neighbouring India have long expressed concern over growing Chinese influence in strategically placed Sri Lanka.

Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off project construction when he visited Sri Lanka in 2014.

An identical image was shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook here, here and here

But the claim is false: Premadasa, Kiriella and Attanayake all voted against the bill.

Keyword searches found the Parliament of Sri Lanka broadcast the voting proceedings live on Facebook here on May 20, 2021.

The image in the misleading posts corresponds to the video’s 1:53:13 mark when the opposition lawmakers had not yet cast their votes.

But at the video’s 3:25:56 mark when all lawmakers had voted, the tally shows Premadasa, Kiriella and Attanayake voted against the bill. 

The voting status of the parliamentarians BEFORE (L) and AFTER (R) the voting concluded.

This report aired on May 21, 2021 by local television NewsFirst also shows a tally of votes of members of parliament, with the opposition lawmakers seen voting against the bill.