A series of six photos showing dead bodies surrounded by people armed with hatchets – as well as by watchful vultures – have been circulating on social media networks in India and across Africa. Some people claim these photos show Rohingya Muslims who were killed in Myanmar, while others say that the photos depict Muslims getting ready to eat murdered Hindus in India. However, neither of these stories are true. These photos show something else entirely: they are actually images of a sky burial, which is a funeral ceremony performed amongst some Buddhists.

Warning, some readers may find these photos shocking, even though the graphic portions have been blurred by the France 24 Observers team. The photos show human body parts on the ground, surrounded by vultures and by people armed with hatchets.


These photos are circulating on social media in Africa…

Back in September, a social media user from Guinea posted these six photos on Facebook along with the caption, “In Myanmar, animals have been replaced by Muslims at the slaughterhouse.”

Even though the original post is from September 8, 2017, in the past week, it has started circulating again. It’s been shared to a number of different Facebook groups that have tens of thousands of members. In total, the post has been shared more than 11,000 times and has garnered more than 450 comments. About a third of the comments were written in the past few days.

This tweet, translated from French, begins: “In Myanmar, animals have been replaced by Muslims at the slaughterhouse.”

…but these photos have also popped up on social media and news sites in India

Last December, these same photos were widely circulated in India, but with a different caption. People were alleging that the dead bodies didn’t belong to Muslims but to Hindus. And that Rohingya Muslim refugees had slaughtered them.

An Indian social media user, who has more than 45,000 followers, shared a photo of the front page of a local newspaper, Aaj Tak Gurgaon. The article on this front page alleged that the six photos showed Rohingya refugees in Mewat, a largely Muslim area in the northern Indian state of Haryana, eating “the flesh of a young Hindu man”.

Another Indian media outlet, Dainik Bharat, also shared these six photos, alleging that Rohingyas in Mewat had killed Hindus to eat their flesh. However, their article has since been deleted.

Old images

If you do a quick reverse image search with Google Images, you’ll quickly see that these are old photos. They’ve featured in publications as far back as 2009. Most of these publications either claim that the killers or that the killed are Rohingya.

Images showing a funeral tradition for some Buddhists

However, there are also a lot of publications that explain that these photos don’t have anything to do with the Rohingya people, and they certainly don’t show an act of cannibalism.

According to a Turkish blog, which shared these photos in October 2009, the images show a funeral custom for Tibetan Buddhists. There are numerous Facebook and Twitter posts, collected by Indian fact-checking site Alt News, that explain the same thing.

In fact, there is a custom amongst some Buddhists that involves leaving a body on the ground in a special place, often in the mountains, to be eaten by vultures. In some cases, the body is cut up beforehand. This practice, known as a sky burial, is performed in some areas in China (especially Tibet) as well as in Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal and India.

Practitioners believe that once someone has died, their body is no longer important – only their spirit is. That’s why the body is given back to nature. When the vultures consume the body, it allows the person’s spirit to go to the sky. There are many different articles, videos and blogs that explain this ritual.

There is a lot of false information circulating online about the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Fake images complicate work of NGOs trying to help Rohingya

Last year, many social media users shared a grisly video, claiming that it showed a group of Rohingya massacring Hindus and selling their body parts. The Indian website BOOM quickly proved that this video was fake.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Standing up for truth: Meet India’s 'fake news' fighters

This artilce was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).