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FactCheck: No, this photo of a massive crowd in Bucharest does not show a protest against Covid-19 restrictions

Social media posts have falsely described a photo from Romania in 2017 as a recent anti-restrictions protest.

For Covid factchecks

A WIDELY SHARED photo of Bucharest, Romania has been falsely described as showing hundreds of thousands of people at a protest against Covid-19 restrictions.

The image was uploaded to Telegram, a messaging platform, on 19 February with a caption that claims: “Protests in Romania against Covid-19 restrictions.”

The photo has been reshared and mislabelled as a recent protest in Romania in multiple languages and countries, including Finland, Colombia, Albania, the US, Belgium, South Korea and Italy.

It has been framed by groups that oppose Covid-19 restrictions as a massive demonstration that should be replicated in their own countries.

In Ireland, a Facebook post shared the image with the caption: “Even Romania is out, Ireland should be ashamed of themselves.”

The post has been seen over 15,200 times since it was uploaded on 20 February.

However, the photo actually shows a 2017 protest in Bucharest against a loosening of anti-corruption rules, not a protest against Covid-19 restrictions.

The photo that is being used in these posts was uploaded to Twitter on 5 February 2017 by Koert Debeuf, the editor of an online Belgian newspaper and a visiting research fellow at Oxford University.

“Wow. Bucharest, Romania tonight. The people ask the government to leave,” Debeuf captioned the photo in 2017.

Yesterday, Debeuf retweeted the photo and added: “This is not a picture of 2021 Bucharest protests against corona measures. It is from 2017. Don’t spread it.”

“This tweet is currently retweeted worldwide as if it is happening now. Fake news, people,” he said.

The protests in 2017 followed an executive order that decriminalised instances of corruption when officials abused their position if less than €44,000 was involved. 

After the order was issued at the end of January that year, there were protests around Romania in the first days of February that attracted up to an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people.

shutterstock_566987998 Protest in Bucharest against a relaxing of anti-corruption rules in February 2017. Source: Shutterstock/Pazargic Liviu

shutterstock_578562913 Source: Shutterstock/dpVUE .images

shutterstock_572855284 Source: Shutterstock/Bogdan Vija

The anti-corruption protests were widely reported on in Romanian and international media in 2017, including in Ireland.

There have been some protests in Romania in the last year – however, none of these brought crowds of hundreds of thousands of people similar to those seen in 2017.

A protest in Bucharest in October 2020 that criticised the government for not protecting the hospitality sector during restrictions attracted a few hundred workers, the Associated Press reported.

In September, political party Alliance for the Unification of the Romanians led a protest in Bucharest in support of the right to protest during the pandemic. An organiser told a Romanian news agency that there were 1,000 people in attendance.

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This type of misinformation about protests has appeared on social media in Ireland and abroad throughout the pandemic.

Last year, a photo of Seoul in South Korea that claimed to show an anti-restrictions protest gained significant traction online – however, the protest was driven by calls for the country’s president to resign after claims that its general election was rigged.

Similarly, in December, posts on social media claimed that a photo of Paris showed a large-scale protest against restrictions in what they described as “France standing up” and a “full out war”.

The photo, which is of the Champs-Élysées, is actually from when France won the World Cup in 2018 and shows people celebrating the team’s victory – not protesting Covid-19 restrictions.

Social media posts have incorrectly dated the photo from Bucharest, which was taken in 2017, to more recently during the pandemic.

The posts have also given an inaccurate reason for why the crowd seen in the photo was gathering. Protesters were pushing back against a decision on anti-corruption rules, not Covid-19 restrictions. The photo was taken more than two and a half years before Covid-19 was first identified.

As a result, we rate the claim that the photo shows a large protest against Covid-19 restrictions in Bucharest: FALSE.

As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie.

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