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Taliban in Afghanistan: Watch out for these images taken out of context

Since the Taliban took the Afghan capital of Kabul on august 15, 2021, numerous images have been circulating online, but some of them are old, doctored or taken out of context.
Since the Taliban took the Afghan capital of Kabul on august 15, 2021, numerous images have been circulating online, but some of them are old, doctored or taken out of context. © Observers

Since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan after taking the capital of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the FRANCE Observers team has been following the event through images posted on social media. As with any major news story, a number of photos and videos have been published despite being fake, old or taken out of context. On our Twitter page, @InfoIntoxF24, we’ve been keeping up with the misinformation and posting live verifications. 

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Here are some of those images that have been shared with false or misleading information online in the past weeks. 

Is this a video of ex-president Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country?

Ex-president Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan after the Taliban surrounded Kabul on August 15, explaining in a post on his Facebook page that he wanted to avoid a “bloodbath”.

Around the same time, a video of Ashraf Ghani boarding a plane was shared widely on Twitter, with many saying it showed the ex-president’s last moments before leaving Afghanistan. 

A Twitter post from August 16 shows a video of Ashraf Ghani boarding a plane, with the caption, “The escape of a president: Ashraf Ghani’s last seconds on Afghan soil before boarding a commercial flight from Kamair, filmed by a local agency.” The real video dates back to July 15 and shows Ghani leaving for a conference in Uzbekistan.
A Twitter post from August 16 shows a video of Ashraf Ghani boarding a plane, with the caption, “The escape of a president: Ashraf Ghani’s last seconds on Afghan soil before boarding a commercial flight from Kamair, filmed by a local agency.” The real video dates back to July 15 and shows Ghani leaving for a conference in Uzbekistan. © Twitter

But actually, Ashraf Ghani’s departure was not filmed. This video comes from July 15, 2021, when the ex-president was leaving for a conference on South and Central Asian relations. The conference would take place the next day in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 

A video published on Twitter on July 15, 2021 shows Ashraf Ghani departing for a conference in Uzbekistan.

Did the Taliban really raise their flag over the presidential palace?

Another image was widely shared on Twitter during the Taliban’s siege of Kabul on August 15. This one shows the Taliban flag (white with the Islamic profession of faith, or shahada, written on it in black Arabic calligraphy) flying above the presidential palace. 

Left: A screenshot of a Twitter post from August 16, 2021 with the caption, “(Terrible) photo of the evening” above a photoshopped image of the Taliban flag. Right: A Twitter post from March 8, 2020 with the original video, showing the Afghan flag over the presidential palace.
Left: A screenshot of a Twitter post from August 16, 2021 with the caption, “(Terrible) photo of the evening” above a photoshopped image of the Taliban flag. Right: A Twitter post from March 8, 2020 with the original video, showing the Afghan flag over the presidential palace. © Observers/Twitter

Though the Taliban had indeed taken over the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15, this image is fake. It’s a photoshopped screenshot of a video where the Afghan tricolour flag flies above the palace. The original video was published as early as March 2020 on Twitter.

This doesn’t mean the Taliban didn’t take down Afghan flags around the country, replacing them with their own. People took to the streets to reinstall the Afghan national flag in several cities around eastern Afghanistan on August 18, in protests that were harshly suppressed by the Taliban.

Do these photos show Afghan women put in chains by the Taliban?

Several photos have been published on social media networks to illustrate the Taliban’s treatment of women after recapturing Afghanistan. The situation for women in Afghanistan is currently extremely worrying, however, many of these photos and videos were edited or taken out of context. 

In this first image, shared widely in English, a woman stands with her wrists tied up in a chain held by a man. 

A photo posted on Twitter on August 19, 2021 shows a woman held in chains by a man. However, this image is actually showing a theatrical performance during a protest held by Kurdish activists in London on October 17, 2014.
A photo posted on Twitter on August 19, 2021 shows a woman held in chains by a man. However, this image is actually showing a theatrical performance during a protest held by Kurdish activists in London on October 17, 2014. © Twitter

You can find the real context of this photo with a quick reverse image search. On October 17, 2014, Kurdish activists in London organised a protest with a “mock Islamic State sex slave market”, according to a BBC article written about the event. 

One of the activists, Ari Murad, explained on Twitter that he took this picture in 2014. He also filmed the performance and published it on his Facebook page

In another image, three women are seen walking away from the camera with chains around their ankles, held by a man walking ahead of them. The photo was shared on Twitter in the days after the Taliban siege on Kabul. 

Left: A screenshot of a Twitter post on August 17, 2021 showing three women in chains with the caption, “Future of women in Afghanistan.” Right: The original image, seen here published by the Associated Press, taken by photographer Murat Duzyol in February 2003 in Erbil, Iraq.
Left: A screenshot of a Twitter post on August 17, 2021 showing three women in chains with the caption, “Future of women in Afghanistan.” Right: The original image, seen here published by the Associated Press, taken by photographer Murat Duzyol in February 2003 in Erbil, Iraq. © Observers/Twitter/Associated Press

But, in fact, the chains on the women’s ankles were edited into the photo. A quick reverse image search shows that the original photo – without the chains – was taken in February 2003 in Erbil, Iraq by photographer Murat Duzyol. It was published on the photography website Trek Earth

Both India Today and AP fact-checked this image. The photographer explained to India Today:

The man was part of a condolence meeting for Iraqi civilians killed after a Friday prayer in Erbil. As people were returning to their homes, such a composition randomly appeared on the street. It was an instant snapshot and completely natural. The women obviously knew each other, but I’m not sure they knew the man.

Does this video show women protesting en masse in Afghanistan?

A video shared on Twitter purports to show a group of “brave Afghan women” protesting against the Taliban in the streets of Kabul. 

A video posted on Twitter on August 18, 2021 is captioned: “Brave Afghan women protest against the #Taliban in #Kabul #Afghanistan.” The video does show Afghan women protesting the Taliban, but they were actually in Iran.
A video posted on Twitter on August 18, 2021 is captioned: “Brave Afghan women protest against the #Taliban in #Kabul #Afghanistan.” The video does show Afghan women protesting the Taliban, but they were actually in Iran. © Observers/Twitter

This video wasn’t filmed in Afghanistan, but in Iran in the city of Qom on August 16, 2021. Women in the Afghan diaspora organised anti-Taliban demonstrations in several Iranian cities (Tehran, Isfahan and Qom), according to Iran International

We can see other photos and videos of these protests on Twitter. India Today wrote an article looking into the false video and geolocated it in collaboration with local journalists at Qom News. 

Some Afghan women have indeed gone out to protest in small numbers in Kabul, however, others report being too afraid to even leave the house. 

Did a CNN journalist radically change her outfit within 24 hours of the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul?

A viral photo shared on Twitter seems to show two images of journalist Clarissa Ward reporting for CNN from Kabul, before and after the Taliban captured the capital. In the first image, she has her hair uncovered, while in the second, she is wearing a black headscarf, pulled tightly around her face. 

“In 24 hours, CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward had to cover herself in order to carry out her work in the streets of Kabul,” said French politician Eric Ciotti on Twitter.

A Twitter post published by French politician Eric Ciotti on August 16, 2021, showing two screenshots of CNN journalist Clarissa Ward reporting from Afghanistan.
A Twitter post published by French politician Eric Ciotti on August 16, 2021, showing two screenshots of CNN journalist Clarissa Ward reporting from Afghanistan. © Observers/Twitter

Ward, who is CNN’s chief international correspondent, explained on Twitter that the comparison is inaccurate: the top photo was taken in a private place where she wasn’t required to cover her hair. The second photo was taken outside in the street. Ward said that she has always covered her hair when reporting from the streets of Kabul, though since the Taliban arrived, she has made a few changes, like covering her hair completely, and wearing an abaya, a garment which covers the whole body. 

Watch out for old photos and videos – which sometimes look a lot like the current ones

During the first military evacuations out of Kabul, photos and videos of chaos at the airport and crowded planes circulated widely on social media. But some of these images were actually old photos. 

A screenshot of a Tweet published on August 17, 2021 that says, “Gender equality among the #Afghans fleeing the #Taliban, not so much…”. In reality, the photo doesn’t show evacuations out of Kabul, but rather a repatriation flight of Afghan refugees expelled from Turkey in 2018.
A screenshot of a Tweet published on August 17, 2021 that says, “Gender equality among the #Afghans fleeing the #Taliban, not so much…”. In reality, the photo doesn’t show evacuations out of Kabul, but rather a repatriation flight of Afghan refugees expelled from Turkey in 2018. © Observers/Twitter

This photo of men on an airplane was shared on Twitter, with users condemning the lack of gender equality apparent in the evacuation. However, it was not taken during recent evacuations from Kabul. It dates back to 2018, as seen in this article from Anadolu Ajansi, a Turkish press agency, entitled “6,846 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan returned to their country.” 

Screenshot of a Tweet published August 15, 2021 with the caption, “Evacuation of 800 people on a US Air Force plane this evening in Kabul.” In reality, this image was taken on November 17, 2013 in the Philippines during a typhoon evacuation.
Screenshot of a Tweet published August 15, 2021 with the caption, “Evacuation of 800 people on a US Air Force plane this evening in Kabul.” In reality, this image was taken on November 17, 2013 in the Philippines during a typhoon evacuation. © Observers/Twitter

A photo of the inside of an American military cargo plane evacuating 640 Afghans on August 15, 2021, has become a symbol of the first frantic day of evacuations out of Kabul. But another, very similar photo has been shared, saying it was also taken in Kabul. 

Actually, this second photo was taken on November 17, 2013, when American forces evacuated 670 people from the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan. 

Finally, some violent videos, which are said to show Taliban atrocities since they captured Kabul, have resurfaced online. 

Warning: Graphic images

This video of a Taliban tribunal lynching a woman was posted on August 10, during the Taliban’s rapid campaign to take over the country. But the scene actually took place in late 2020 in a zone under Taliban control near the city of Herat in western Afghanistan. You can find our article about what happened, here.

Another video shows a woman being publicly executed, with some online saying it shows current events in Afghanistan. However, the video is actually from 2015 and was taken in Syria, when Al-Nusra, a Syrian group affiliated with al-Qaeda, executed a woman accused of adultery, as reported by the Independent and the Daily Mail, and verified by Reuters