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Fact Check

AFP
September 24, 2019

Fact-check: Hong Kong school makes students dress as pro-democracy protesters?

Fact Check

AFP
Tue, Sep 24, 2019


Photos of young students wearing gas masks and holding toy guns have been shared hundreds of times in multiple posts on Facebook, Instagram and Weibo which claim their school made them dress as pro-democracy protesters. The images are being used in a misleading context; the school told AFP the photos were taken during a school activity in early June 2019, before three consecutive months of pro-democracy protests hit the city.

The photos were published in this Facebook post on September 17, 2019, by Leticia Lee, chairwoman of a pro-Beijing group called the Justice Alliance.

Lee published the photos in a Facebook group called “Hong Kong citizens support severe punishment for local rioters, protect Hong Kong’s rule of law”, which has more than 7,000 members.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

 

In the background of one of the photos, advertising boards with the logo of NERF, a toy gun made by the American toy company Hasbro with a branch in Hong Kong, can be seen.

The post’s traditional Chinese language caption translates to English as: “All students at a primary school in Hong Kong have been dressed in ‘cockroach outfit’, holding ‘fake weapons’ and looking like they are preparing to shoot.

“It was the poisonous teachers’ attempt to brainwash them.

“These children are Hong Kong’s next generation! How much of this do their parents know?”

Lee later edited the caption of the post.

Protesters have been called “cockroaches” by police and pro-establishment figures during the city’s ongoing protests, according to this AFP report published on September 16.

The post includes a logo for the Education University of Hong Kong Jockey Club Primary School.

Some comments on the post-show multiple Facebook users believed the claim.

One user’s comment in traditional Chinese translates to English as: “Scary, this should stop!”

Another wrote: “The teacher should be executed by shooting.” [This is] “Failed education”.

Below is a screenshot of some of the comments: 

Some or all of the photos have been shared hundreds of times here and here on Facebook, here on Instagram and here and here on Weibo alongside a similar claim.

The claim is misleading; the school told AFP the photos were taken during a school activity in early June 2019, before mass pro-democracy protests hit the city.

A reverse image search on Google shows the same photos have been indexed for the website of the Education University of Hong Kong Jockey Club Primary School.

Below is a screenshot of the reverse image search results:

The photos have since been removed from the school’s website, as seen here.

In an email to AFP on September 18, a spokesperson for the school said the photos of its students were taken at an event on June 5, 2019, before three consecutive months of pro-democracy protests in the city.

The traditional Chinese language statement translates to English as: “Photos of our students taken at an activity have been circulating on social media since yesterday alongside inaccurate captions, which do not represent facts. We hereby issue the following clarification:

“In April this year, our school received several written invitations from various organisations that wished to provide our students with a range of free activities, including shooting, horse riding and leadership training.

“The shooting activity, which aimed at deepening students’ learning experience, was held on June 5, 2019. The students’ outfit, as seen in the photos, served protective purposes during the training and is not relevant to recent events in Hong Kong.

“The photos were taken by our staff during the activity, and the equipment was provided by the organisation.

“We deeply regret the photos have caused misunderstandings among some people.”

The school confirmed with AFP the photos in the misleading post had been deleted from the mobile phone of a staffer, who took them and sent them back to school via Whatsapp.

On September 19, the school emailed AFP the metadata of a similar photo showing a group of masked students taken by another staffer at the same event on June 5.

The screenshot of photo’s metadata shows it was taken at 2:24 pm June 5, 2019, at 10 Lo Ping Road, Ting Kok using a Samsung SM-C9000 mobile phone.

The address corresponds with the location of the Education University of Hong Kong Jockey Club Primary School on Google Maps.

Below is a screenshot of the image metadata provided by the school: