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MFC Investigates Organizers of GoFundMe who Collected Close to USD $82,000 on Behalf of Victims whose identity is not Yet Established

Claim: Individuals pictured for the purpose of raising funds on GoFundMe were executed because of their religion.

MFC’s Verdict: The images are misleading as they do not fully represent the identity of the individual victims claimed in the story.

By MFC Staff

On January 27, 2022, a GoFundMe fundraising account was organized by Biniyam Alemayehu Lakew with the initiative of a ‘religious teacher’ Zemedkun Bekele. Biniyam identifies himself as a YouTuber with Ethiopian audiences. In the fundraising, he claims that the fund will be used “to support families of people who were killed due to their religious belief.”

The organizer, who also goes by the name Lij Bini on YouTube, has over 25.7 million total viewership whereas Zemedkun has more than 251k followers on his Facebook and 277k on Telegram. 

As of this writing (January 31, 2021), the account has raised close to 82,000 USD in three days.

The Amharic version of the story written on the front page of the fundraising account says it was initiated by Zemedkun in collaboration with the organizer for the purpose of (a) “remembering our ‘cross-carrying brothers’ who were executed because of their religion in front of Tabot [- a replica of the ‘Ark of the Covenant -] and the public at different times and places in Ethiopia; (b) ‘comforting their families.” 

In the English version of the story, the organizer, Biniyam, specifically stated that: “In this particular case, I’m collaborating with other YouTubers to raise money for families of victims who suffered during the Ethiopian Timket [Epiphany] Celebration on January 19, 2022.” Along with the stated purpose of the fundraising, the two organizers, who are based in the USA and Germany respectively, have attached pictures of six individuals who they claim is representative of the identity of the victims.

Screenshot 1: Pictures of individuals attached to the cause of the fundraising. MFC labeled the pictures on this screenshot with “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, and “E” for the purpose of description in this article.

MFC Staff investigated this matter with a specific question: do those individuals in the picture posted along the story of the fundraising represent the identity of the victims who lost their lives due to their religion, and in the incident during the Ethiopian Timket Celebration on January 19, 2022?   

On January 21, 2022, citing eyewitnesses, the Amharic desk of the German international broadcaster DW Amharic reported that two people were killed and several others were injured in a stand-off between security forces and participants of the Epiphany festival in Burayu town in the Oromia special zone surrounding the capital Addis Ababa. According to the report, the incident happened when tension between Oromia police forces and parishioners of St. Mary church in Burayu town, who were escorting the Tabot (a sacred replica of the Ark) from Addis Ababa back to the town turned into violence over a controversy related to the politically and historically disputed green, yellow and red tricolor flag what was carried by the parishioners. According to the report, while two people died on the scene, a third person died later when security forces opened fire on the crowd. Many also have been injured in a stampede. 

MFC investigated the identities of those who died in this particular incident on January 19, 2022, and whether images of the individuals attached to the GoFundMe account were indeed among the deceased. 

Even though the reported death has been admitted by the Ethiopian government, as of this writing, no independent and/or official outlet have released the names and pictures of the three individuals who died in the incident on January 19, 2022. Thus, MFC separately searched for each of the images on google image in order to establish the identities of the individuals attached to the GoFundMe cause. As noted in screenshot 1, we’ve labeled these images as “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “E” for the purpose of description as stated in the above caption.

In our search, we were not able to establish the identity of those individuals marked as “A” and “B” in Screenshot 1 above.

On January 24, 2021,  Zemedkun Bekele, the initiator of the fundraising, posted on his Facebook page claiming that the individual marked with “D” was not among those killed in the incident. On January 30, 2021 he also posted on his Telegram account a picture displaying the dead bodies of the two individuals he claimed to have been killed in the incident.

Screenshot 2: Screenshot of the picture posted by Zemedkun on his Telegram account.


Screenshot 3: Screenshot of zoomed picture posted by Zemedkun on his Telegram account. MFC labeled the pictures on this screenshot with “1”, “2”, “3”, and “4” for the purpose of description in this article.

While the individual marked as “1” in Screenshot 3 is on the GoFundMe cause, the individual marked as ‘“4” is not (see Screenshot 1). Zemedkun claims that the two middle images are pictures of the dead body of the two individuals. According to him, these two individuals were shot dead right in front of the Tabot on the red carpet laid to escort the holy object. In the same Telegram post, he claims that their bodies were wrapped up with the red carpet and immediately taken from the scene by Oromia police. 

MFC’s image search however was able to establish the identity of the individual marked under “E” and the circumstance of his death. Our search revealed that his name is Amauel Wondimu Kebede. According to the Human Rights Watch report issued on June 10, 2021, Amauel Wondimu who was a 17-year-old boy, was publicly executed by the Ethiopian Government’s regional army division known as Oromia Special Forces on May 11, 2021, in Dembi Dollo town, Oromia, Ethiopia. According to this report, the security forces arrested Amanuel near his home on May 11, 2021 allegedly for shooting and injuring a contractor and being a member of Abba Torbee (an armed group in Oromia and with unclear links to the Oromo Liberation Army). He was then paraded down a street, beaten with a handgun tied around his neck, and ultimately was executed in public at a roundabout in downtown Dembi Dollo.

Based on these findings, MFC determines that the image seen on the GoFundMe page doesn’t entirely fit with the cause and purpose of the fundraising claimed by the organizers. As a result, we conclude that the usage of the image is misleading.  

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Based on voice cloning and using wrong pictures, MFC verdicts the stated content as misleading. 

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