4 December 2023

Misleading: This photo does not show Afghans waiting for a plane in Kabul

The image showing people standing on passenger boarding steps was not taken in Afghanistan. It’s from a 14-year-old video shot in California.

People lined up on a mobile boarding stairs which is not attached to a plane


A tweet on Aug. 16 claimed an image of people standing on mobile aircraft boarding stairs at the airport in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, shows a scene after an airplane took off without them.

The tweet, when translated to English, reads “Kabul Airport. The plane flew away! (喀布爾機場,飛機飛走了! )” It gained 152 retweets and 520 likes. It was tweeted by Liu Xiaoyuan, a former Chinese human rights lawyer.

The same photo has circulated on other social media platforms like Weibo and Facebook.

State-owned China Global TV Network (CGTN) also posted the photo on its Facebook page on Aug. 17, alongside a commentary on the recent situation in Afghanistan where hundreds of civilians attempted to board planes to leave the country following the takeover by the Taliban.

The image, however, was not taken recently but is actually a screenshot of a scene in a video released in 2007.

The video titled “Centro di Permanenza Temporanea” (Temporary Detention Centre) was filmed by Albanian artist Adrian Paci in 2007. It was shot in San Jose, California, not in Afghanistan.

Comparison of a screenshot of a 2007 video showing people on a mobile boarding stairs with the same photo but used in a misleading way, saying this was taken in 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan
Screenshot from Centro di Permanenza Temporanea, 2007 (left) and the tweeted photo (right).

The video was described as a “piece shot” aiming to show the plight of migrants facing temporary employment.

In May, the U.S. began withdrawing its last remaining troops from Afghanistan, 20-years after it mounted a campaign against the Taliban insurgents.