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Faux specialists praising Bangladesh gov’t in media earlier than elections: AFP probe | Media Information

Lots of of articles praising Bangladeshi authorities insurance policies apparently by impartial specialists have appeared in nationwide and worldwide media however the authors have questionable credentials, faux pictures, and will not even exist, an investigation by the AFP information company has discovered.

Commentators say it’s proof of a sustained marketing campaign of disinformation by unknown actors forward of elections due by the top of January however seems to be meant to learn the federal government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Such articles have been printed by Chinese language state information company Xinhua, main media throughout Asia, and quoted by the South Asia Transient of the Washington-based Overseas Coverage journal.

Rights teams and international powers, together with the USA, have lengthy raised considerations over efforts by Hasina’s authorities to silence criticism and stamp out political dissent.

AFP discovered that names forming a community of so-called specialists are producing common op-ed items, some posing as lecturers from main international universities, some utilizing stolen headshot pictures, and others making up quotes from actual analysts.

“It’s a coordinated affect operation,” stated A al-Mamun, a journalism professor at Bangladesh’s College of Rajshahi. “These articles primarily promote narratives which can be beneficial to the present Bangladesh authorities.”

Fake experts drive disinformation before Bangladesh polls
A salesman arranges bundles of newspapers alongside a roadside in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

A surge of articles appeared on-line round September 2022, when Bangladesh’s international ministry issued a name for “good columnists” to counter unfavourable “propaganda”.

AFP despatched a number of requests for remark to prime officers at Bangladesh’s international ministry and data ministry however acquired no reply. Overseas Minister A Ok Abdul Momen informed AFP he did “not have sufficient time” to remark.

No information

AFP stated it analysed greater than 700 articles printed in not less than 60 home and worldwide information websites with bylines attributed to 35 names, all of which appeared for the primary time on-line final 12 months.

The articles overwhelmingly endorse narratives pushed by Dhaka, with some posted on Bangladesh authorities web sites.

Many are staunchly pro-Beijing and fiercely crucial of Washington – which has issued Dhaka stiff warnings of the necessity at no cost and honest elections.

Whereas it was not potential to show if the 35 names investigated by AFP are actual, no on-line presence other than their articles may very well be discovered, none has a visual social media profile, and none has printed analysis papers in educational journals.

Fake experts drive disinformation before Bangladesh polls
Bangladesh’s Day by day New Age editor Nurul Kabir speaks with AFP at his workplace in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

A minimum of 17 of the 35 claimed hyperlinks to main Western and Asian universities however AFP’s digital verification reporters discovered no information for them.

Eight main universities confirmed that that they had by no means heard of 9 of the writers purportedly working for them, together with the College of Delaware within the US, Canada’s College of Toronto, Switzerland’s College of Lucerne, and the Nationwide College of Singapore.

“We checked our college information and don’t discover his title on our rolls,” India’s Jawaharlal Nehru College stated about one purported author claiming ties.

Headshot pictures of eight of the reported columnists belong to different individuals, together with a preferred trend influencer on Indian social media.

AFP additionally discovered examples the place the identical article was printed utilizing completely different names in English and Bengali.

Among the many names is Doreen Chowdhury, a seemingly industrious columnist who has written not less than 60 articles praising Dhaka’s authorities, supporting rising ties with China, and warning that gun violence within the US is a “risk to human rights”.

Chowdhury’s {photograph} was taken from an Indian actor, whereas the College of Groningen within the Netherlands – the place Chowdhury is reportedly a doctoral researcher in politics – stated it has no report of her.

AFP acquired a response from the e-mail handle listed beneath the articles that stated Chowdhury was an “alias to keep away from safety considerations”, however the e-mail’s creator declined to supply an actual identification or clarify the usage of a false {photograph}.

‘Solely fabricated’

Fumiko Yamada, who has had articles printed in shops together with the Bangkok Publish and a weblog by the London College of Economics, is portrayed as a specialist in Bangladesh Research at Australia’s College of Melbourne.

Nonetheless, AFP discovered that there aren’t any information of her there and that “Bangladesh Research” just isn’t a selected analysis examine space.

Articles attributed to Yamada vary from praising Hasina’s “important counsel” to blasting Washington’s “double requirements in the direction of the democracy and human rights of others by incessantly interfering of their inner affairs”.

Different articles embrace faux quotes from actual specialists.

Gerard McCarthy, a professor on the Worldwide Institute of Social Research within the Netherlands, stated “completely fabricated” quotes attributed to him have been utilized in an article condemning “Western duplicity” in the direction of Myanmar, written beneath the byline Prithwi Raj Chaturvedi.

Newspaper editors stated they printed articles in good religion, after studying their educational background and seeing them printed elsewhere.

“We trusted the credentials,” stated Mubin S Khan, characteristic editor of Dhaka’s Enterprise Commonplace.

Bangladesh’s day by day New Age editor Nurul Kabir stated he had been despatched a slew of op-ed pitches in early 2023, “totally on subjects like Bangladesh’s relations with India, China and USA”.

He later stopped publishing them, fearing they have been “mercenary writers” being pushed by “vested” pursuits however was shocked to be taught they gave the impression to be fictitious.

“I ought to have been slightly extra aware on this age of disinformation and propaganda about checking the identities of the writers,” he stated.

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