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Image Shared as Letter from Chief Commissioner Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is Photoshopped

By Naol Getachew

Claim: A Twitter account shared an image claiming to be a letter by Daniel Bekele, Chief Commissioner of Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to the President of Columbia University, Mayor of New York City, and the New York Police Department.

Verdict: False. The image is a manipulated photoshop creation.

On May 2, 2024, an account named “Pulp Faction” with over 13,500 followers shared an image on X, formerly Twitter. The image purported to be a letter from Daniel Bekele, condemning alleged incidents of police brutality at Columbia University campuses in New York City. The post gained significant traction before it was debunked (see image below).

The letter contained a lengthy texts that started speaking “on behalf of the African Union” and other international organization and condemning what it said “incidents of police brutality that have occurred at Columbia University campuses in New York City”. It then urged the university to take immediate and decisive action to address four listed issues.

However, the image used by the X account was a photoshopped content. 

MFC used three methodologies to verify the claim: observation, use of tools, and communication with the EHRC and Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele.

  1. Observation

Fake news generators and imposter content creators often make mistakes that can be easily spotted by users.

Error 1:

As shown in the image below, the creators of the fake letter used a photo of Daniel Bekele on the letter header in order to deceive users. However, institutions like the EHRC do not use such images on their letterheads.

Error 2:

Every professional letter is written with even spaces left and right (2.5 cm). As you can see in the image below, the fake letter is unprofessional and amateurish in its formatting.

Error 3:

The first sentence of the first paragraph of the fake letter claims that “On behalf of the African Union and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an international non-governmental organization…”. However, this is incorrect on several counts.

• Daniel Bekele is the chief commissioner of the EHRC. He has no affiliation with the African Union and has no authority to write a letter on its behalf.

• The EHRC is a national institution that serves Ethiopia. It is not an international organization.

• The EHRC is not a non-governmental organization. It is an independent federal state body established by the Ethiopian constitution and reporting to the House of People’s Representatives.

Error 4:

At the end of the fake letter, the creators wrote “Ethiopian Human Rights Watch Commission”. However, there is no such institution. The “Watch” is an error.

Additionally, we obtained a formal letter format from the EHRC. As shown below, the difference between the fake letter and the real letter is visible.

1. The real letter has a formal and professional header and footer. (See number 1 and 5)

2. The real letter has an EHRC stamp. (See number 2)

3. The real letter has a date and letter number. (See number 3)

4. The real letter has a subject line.  (See number 4)

5. The real letter has a formal footer with information including email, phone, fax, address, and organizational motto. (See number 5)

  1. Tool

MFC also used the Fake Image Detector tool to check if the image had been modified. The tool returned the result: “Looks like Computer Generated or Modified image” (see below).

  1. Email communication with the EHRC, Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele

MFC communicated with Daniel Bekele via email in order to confirm whether the letter was genuine or false. He replied, “This is completely a fake letter.”

Based on the gathered evidence, MFC confirmed that the image shared by the X account claiming that the Chief of EHRC wrote a letter to the President of Columbia University, the Mayor of New York City, and the New York Police Department is false.

Context

On April 17, students at New York’s Columbia University set up the Gaza Solidarity and encampment on campus to protest against Columbia’s response to Israel’s war on Gaza. About 2,500 people have been arrested at campuses nationwide, according to an Associated Press count. On April 30, Columbia called in the police to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from its campus in Upper Manhattan, leading to more than 100 arrests. Demonstrators had occupied Hamilton Hall, renaming it Hind’s Hall, after a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza.

The protesters are demanding an end to Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 people since October 7, and are calling on their universities to sever ties with companies and institutions that have links to Israel.

The post circulated in this context.

We at the MFC strive to verify misleading and false claims so that people get fact-based information and make an informed decision as well. In the process of our work, accuracy and transparency hold a central role. Therefore, if you see errors in our content, please write to us at [email protected] so that our team will make corrections.

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MultiFactCheck

(MFC) is an independent fact-checking organization which is launched to pin-point, track-down, scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, publish and distribute the factual accuracy of claims made by public figures. MFC’s project has geographical priorities. Our work mainly focuses on nations in the Horn of Africa and their diaspora community who reside abroad. We operates from various regions of Africa, Europe and North America. Through a multitude of professional proficiency, MFC deploys best practices of journalism, scholarship and expertise in order to flag, investigate and publish a fact.

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