Incorrect footage exaggerates size of pro-Lukashenka protest in Vilnius

While reporting on a pro-Lukashenka gathering

Incorrect footage exaggerates size of pro-Lukashenka protest in Vilnius

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While reporting on a pro-Lukashenka gathering in Lithuania, Belarusian state media broadcast footage from a rally in Belarus instead

(Source: @LAndriukaitis/DFRLab via KPU/archive, Laurynas Ragelskis/archive)

While reporting on a pro-Lukashenka gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Belarusian state TV channel CTV instead showed a full square of people in the Belarusian town of Klichaw.

On August 20, 2020, CTV released a video reporting on a pro-government gathering in Vilnius. The narrator said that Lithuanians had gathered to protest against a “Belarusian Maidan” — in reference to Ukraine’s 2014 pro-democracy Maidan Revolution — but the video showed the wrong gathering, using footage from a full square of Lukashenka supporters in Klichaw, Belarus. There was a pro-Lukaskenka rally in Vilnius the day prior, but it only gathered about a dozen people. 
 Protests in Belarus started in August 2020 after a widely contested election in which longtime president Alyksandr Lukashenka reportedly garnered 80 percent of the vote, despite his mounting unpopularity. The DFRLab’s ongoing monitoring of the situation in Belarus has focused on pro-Lukashenka disinformation campaigns and the evolving security situation in the country.

Geolocating the alleged protest

The CTV segment first aired on August 20, and at the time of writing, the outlet’s website was offline and the link to the video unavailable. Soon after it aired, though, copies of the segment started circulating on VK. In the video, the narrator announced that Lithuanians had gathered in Vilnius to show their support of the government and against the “Belarusian Maidan” — in other words, the pro-democracy protests spreading throughout the country.

Video of the TV segment that was shared on VK. (Source: Alexander Sviridovich/archive)

The video presented by CTV appeared suspicious, as the crowd appeared too large for Lithuania, whose population is largely supportive of the anti-Lukashenka protests. A reverse image search of a frame from the video suggested that the original footage was actually recorded on August 19 in Belarus, not Lithuania.

The original footage of the protest in Bobruisk, Belarus, as seen on Youtube. (Source: KPU/archive)

The title of the original video indicated that it took place in the Belarusian town of Bobruisk, but geolocation revealed that the protest actually took place in the town of Klichaw.

Geolocation of the alleged protest in Vilnius. The actual location of the protest was in the Belarusian town of Klichaw. Dotted lines show different buildings of the main square seen on the satellite and the video. (Source: Google Maps, top, bottom center; Alexander Sviridovich/archive)

On August 19, an gathering of pro-Lukashenka supporters did indeed take place in Vilnius, but the crowd was much more modest in size. A dozen protesters led by a Lithuanian fringe activist Kristoferis Voiška gathered in front of the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius, with posters demanding that NATO and the United States stay away from Belarus. A video of the full 20-minute protest was uploaded on YouTube the same day.

A video of the actual protest that took place in Vilnius. (Source: Laurynas Ragelskis/archive)

It is unclear if Belarusian state media made an inadvertent mistake in airing footage of the wrong protest, or if it was a case of deliberate manipulation. As the CTV website was remained down at the time of publishing, it is also unclear if the misleading video is still on the site — but it was aired on television, as documented by copies of the segment posted to VK. This is not the first time that Lukashenka’s government has tried present the situation in the country to his own benefit. There have been several instances of Belarusian state media outlets underreporting the number of anti-Lukashenko protesters since the start of protests, and independent reports have also alleged that state-organized pro-Lukashenka rallies have bussed in supporters from all over Belarus.

Lukas Andriukaitis is an Associate Director with the Digital Forensic Research Lab;

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