Factcheck: These Are Not Recent Photos, Videos Of Protesters Shot By Policemen In Abuja

Jumping on the hashtag #MassacreInAbuja, a number of Twitter users have shared photos and videos of alleged victims of police brutality during a protest held in Abuja by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on Wednesday but checks by HumAngle show that they are from incidents in previous years.

A Twitter user, Evang Amadi Charles (@iam_Akirika123), shared three pictures on Wednesday and alleged they showed bodies of protesters shot by policemen during a protest held that day. 

“They were on a peaceful protest in Abuja yesterday and the Nigerian police opened fire and killed dozens of people. So sad,” he wrote. Charles’ tweet was liked by 194 users and retweeted 154 times at the time of filing this report.

One of the photos he shared shows the broken skull of a man with a scarf soaked in blood around his neck. A second photo shows over a dozen policemen who appear to be dragging someone into their patrol van and the third is a picture of a man lying face down on the road, blood dripping from his body.

Reverse image searches show, however, that all three images have been on the internet long before this week’s demonstration.

The first picture dates back to January 10, 2018. It was shared on a number of blogs and on Twitter alongside other pictures of the victim, who was reported to have been shot by the police during a protest by members of the Shiite movement two days earlier.

A Google Reverse Image search revealed that the earliest record of the second picture showing the police vans is a report by Vanguard Newspaper on July 22, 2019. It was shot by Gbemiga Olamika and uploaded alongside 11 other pictures from the incident.

In its caption, the paper said, “Security personnel apprehend a member of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (a.k.a Shiites), whom they chased from the Federal Secretariat to Olusegun Obasanjo Way, Central Area, during a protest which turned violent in Abuja on Monday (22/7/19).”

Eight people, including members of the IMN and a Deputy Commissioner of Police, were killed during the protest.

The third picture is also about the July 22, 2019  protest but did not originate from Vanguard Newspaper. It was shared in this tweet from the same day and in a number of blogs including this one, here, here, and here.

Asides Charles’ tweet, there have been other misleading tweets under the hashtag.

One tweet shared a 20 seconds  video of a wounded woman gasping for breath. “She is Batoul by name. She was shot in her head her crime was engaging in a peaceful protest demanding the immediate and unconditional release of persons whose court set them free,” the user (@Ismaforlife) wrote..

But the video has been on the internet since April 29 when a longer version was tweeted by a different account. Referring to the victim as Batula, Abdullahi Junaidu, it said she was shot by soldiers during the protest of July 22, 2019. 

There are two pictures in the Vanguard report, which appear to show Batula when she was being carried after sustaining an injury and in the bus (same location as in the video) when the blood on her face had yet to clot.

There are other examples too.

The picture in this tweet (with 331 likes and 166 retweets) from Wednesday captioned, “Many injured persons were evacuated from the hospital and detained unlawfully by the police,” was first uploaded by the IMN on its website on July 11, 2019, following a protest held on that day. The publication has six similar photos from the event.

This picture was tweeted on Wednesday, July 22, 2020,  with the explanation that “the victims are still detained without proper medical facility despite their health deteriorating and bullets in their body due to the merciless attack by the police”. But it has been on the internet at least since July 23, 2019, in connection with earlier IMN demonstrations.

A misunderstood anniversary

Using Ctrlq, HumAngle was able to extract the first set of tweets that used the MassacreInAbuja hashtag and it was clear the intention was for the trend to mark the first anniversary of extrajudicial killings in 2019.

The hashtag was first used on July 21 by Bin Haroun Sigau Jr (@BSigau_Jr) who wrote, “Twitter Trend To mark one year after #AbujaMassacre. Hashtag: #MassacreInAbuja. Date: Wednesday, 22nd of July, 2020. Time: Nigeria 4:00pm, Pakistan 8:00pm, Iran 7:30pm, Iraq 7:00pm, India 8:30pm, UK 3:00pm (GMT).”


A few minutes later, other Twitter accounts shared the same information. A physical “remembrance protest” was held by members of the IMN on Wednesday, where they said corpses of some of the victims had yet to be released by the police to their families. 

According to Sahara Reporters, five protesters and two journalists from Press TV were arrested on the day by the police but there is no report of anyone that was killed.

Many, however, thought the pictures shared online were from a recent event.  One report on Thursday claimed that Abuja was  “under fire” as protesters were disbanded by police using live bullets the previous day.

A second news blog alleged that policemen opened fire on protesters and killed many. “On Wednesday 22nd July again, many are feared dead,” the blog said. “From the pictures and videos shared on the streets of Twitter, many casualties were seen lying in their own pool of blood but the number is not known yet and it is not clear if any Policeman died in the process.”

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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