Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations was not the first ambassador to flash a fake photograph at a United Nations (UN) assembly, that unfortunate distinction belongs to Syrian ambassador Bashar Jaafari.
Jaafari displayed the photograph in an attempt to show Syrian government forces in a positive light during an during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on December 13, 2016. The meeting was convened to discuss an escalating humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. (Watch Jaafar’s speech in the video below)
“This is what the Syrian army is doing in Aleppo. Here you see a picture of a Syrian soldier providing help and succour to a woman helping her get out of her car,” the Syrian ambassador told the Security Council.
However, the photograph was found on several Arabic websites in June 2016 and appears to be from Fallujah, Iraq where a soldier of the Iraqi Shia militia known as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) helped a civilian woman after freeing the city from the Islamic State.
Syrian envoy to the UNSC uses a photo of Iraqi PMU helping a woman in Fallujah, Iraq and claims it’s a photo of SAA in Syria. pic.twitter.com/ItS0nsswMt
— Kyle Glen (@KyleJGlen) December 13, 2016
On September 23rd Pakistan’s UN envoy Maleeha Lodhi tried to pass off an image of a girl wounded by shrapnel from an airstrike in Gaza as that of a Kashmiri youth wounded by a pellet gun fired by the Indian Army in Kashmir. (Read BOOM’s story – Pakistan’s United Nations Envoy Shows Gaza Pic As Kashmiri Pellet Gun Victim)
In her reply to Indian FM’s speech in UNGA, Amb. Lodhi showed a pic of pellet gun injured women frm Kashmir saying this is the face of India pic.twitter.com/StuG3arPoN
— Pakistan Mission UN (@PakistanUN_NY) September 24, 2017
The incident was widely covered by the Indian press who called it an attempt to malign the country’s image.
It is also a stark reminder to governments that photographs are a powerful journalistic tool that can be used to rally for support but can also backfire if used carelessly.
That fake news is a menace is well documented but its shape shifting abilities to permeate echelons of diplomacy is worrying.