30 September 2023

False: These images do not show Myanmar soldiers setting Chinese-owned factories ablaze

The photo showing a Myanmar soldier holding a Molotov cocktail is manipulated. The original image is about an anti-coup demonstration in the northwestern town of Kalay, Myanmar on March 2, which has nothing to do with the burning of Chinese-owned factories on March 14.

A tweet on March 14 claimed members of Myanmar’s military were setting several Chinese-owned garment factories on fire. It included five images that purportedly show the acts of arson.

As of writing, the post has 115 likes and more than 240 retweets.

Original Tweet Source
The post purportedly shows acts of arson by the military.

However, this claim is false. These images are from previous protests that occurred before March 14. Three of them have also been manipulated to suggest that the military hurled incendiary devices.

Image search led to this post by a Burmese activist dated from March 4, which reads “terrorists” are throwing tear gas canisters to “unarmed protesters.” It suggests the Myanmar military is behind the action.

Original Image, pre-manipulation, of police officer
A police official throwing a tear gas canister on March 4

Below is a comparison of the original image and the manipulated image.

comparison betwen original image and manipulated image of myanmar police
Comparison of the image posted on March 4 (top) and the one posted 10 days later (bottom), where the canister was edited out of the photo to be replaced with a green bottle.

The gray uniforms indicate the men are likely members of the police force, not the military, based on their color and the insignia on the upper right sleeves. The man in blue, who appears to be poised to throw what he is holding, wears a different uniform. The insignia on his shoulders suggests he is a police major.

In the image posted on March 4, the object held by the police major looks like a canister whereas in the manipulated image he is seen holding a green bottle.

The image below shows an anti-coup demonstration in the northwestern town of Kalay (also known as Kale) on March 2. The AFP photo appears to show the same event from a different angle.

AFP original of Myanmar police intervention
A screenshot of the AFP photo taken in Kalay, Myanmar.

AFP’s caption of this photo reads “A policeman (R) throws a projectile towards protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in the northwestern town of Kale on March 2, 2021”.

A comparison of the two images reveals that they feature the same individuals as the uniform, the urban camouflage-patterned helmets and the riot shields are all identical.

AFP image compared to tweet image
Comparison of the image posted on Twitter (left) and the one posted by AFP (right). The same uniform, bandolier, and black mask (soldier circled in red); the same blue mask, uniform, shield, and helmet pattern (soldier circled in orange); the same mask, uniform, helmet pattern, and badge on the collar (soldier circled in purple).

According to media reports, the burning of a Chinese-owned factory in Yangon indeed took place in Hlaing Thar Yar township on March 14. But the demonstration captured in these images took place more than 700 kilometers away in Kalay on March 2.

Map of distance from Hlaing Thar Yar to Kalay
The comparative positions of Hlaing Thar Yar township and Kalay on Google maps.

The other two images of men burning a pile of objects included in the misleading post date back to as early as March 5. A tweet from local journalist Mratt Kyaw Thu on the same date said the images showed police setting fire to barricades set up by protestors on Bargayar Road.

Screenshot of fires on Bargayar Road
A screenshot of the journalist’s Twitter post and its comments. They all claimed that the photos showed Myanmar police setting fire on Bargayar Road.

Below is a comparison of the images in the misleading tweet (left) and the photos in the journalist’s tweet (right).

Comparison of images taken at Bargayar road and those claiming to depict arson
In the four photos, the brick leaning (as enclosed in red rectangles) and the blue round object on the ground (in blue square) are exactly the same. The shed (enclosed in purple square) in the photos also looks the same.

A check on Google maps showed that Bargayar road, which is located at Bagaya St. is about 14 kilometers away from the location of Chinese-owned garment factories set on fire.

Map of distance from Bagayar rd to the garment factories that were set on fire
The comparative positions of Hlaing Thar Yar township and Bagaya St (Bargayar Road) on Google maps.

Annie Lab cannot independently verify the cause of the garment factory fires on March 14, but these images, some of which were posted as early as March 5, are unrelated to that event.

Meanwhile, some posts on Twitter and Facebook also use the same images to make another claim about Myanmar soldiers setting fire on Aung Zay Ya Bridge on March 14.

title image stating no evidence that myanmar military commited arson
Twitter and Facebook posts claim Myanmar soldiers burned down the Aung Zay Ya Bridge.

Annie Lab has found no news about the alleged arson on the bridge. A video by Burmese news site Irrawaddy shows police forces and members of the military shooting at protesters on the bridge on March 14 instead.