Old photo of Bangladesh police raid on cannabis farm misleadingly linked to ruling party

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An old photo of a cannabis farm raided by Bangladesh police in 2020 has resurfaced in social media posts that altered the image to include a signboard falsely linking the site to the ruling Awami League party. The signboard falsely claims the farm was named after Bangladesh’s founder -- the father of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- and supplies to members of the ruling party. Local police told AFP they did not find any such signboard during the 2020 operation.

"The 'Golden Boys' have brought a revolution to agriculture. Bangabandhu Marijuana farm," reads the Bengali-language caption of an altered image shared more than 120 times since it was posted on Facebook here on January 20, 2024.

The image appears to show three people standing in a field looking at a signboard that reads, "Legal weed is being cultivated here for all the leaders and workers of Awami League and its affiliated organisations".

Text overlaid on the image says, "Successful farmer, food is marijuana".

"Golden Boys" is a derogatory nickname that political opponents use for members of Bangladesh's ruling Awami League party.

Bangabandhu -- which means "Friend of the Bengalis"-- is a term of affection for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and father of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was elected to her fifth term on January 7 (archived link).

<span>Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on February 7, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on February 7, 2024

According to local media reports (herehere and here), several Awami League leaders and members were arrested in 2023 for allegedly growing and selling marijuana -- which is illegal in Bangladesh -- in university dormitories (archived links here, herehere and here).

In one case, two leaders of the Awami League's student wing were removed from their positions (archived link).

The same altered image was shared alongside similar claims elsewhere on Facebook here and here.

While some users pointed out the image was manipulated, comments from others suggested they thought it was real.

"What he (Bangabandhu) dreamt is being implemented by his boys", read one comment.

Another said, "Carry on boys".

Police raid in 2020

A reverse image search in Google found the photo without the signboard in a report published by Bengali-language business daily the Bonik Barta on July 30, 2020 (archived link).

The report says: "Police destroyed around 200 cannabis plants in a field at Matmura village of Gangni upazila of Meherpur," a city in western Bangladesh.

"Dulal, son of Kashem of Matmura village, was cultivating marijuana on a piece of land adjacent to his house. He ran away as the police raided his garden."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the altered image (left) and the Bonik Barta photo (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the altered image (left) and the Bonik Barta photo (right)</span>
Screenshot comparison of the altered image (left) and the Bonik Barta photo (right)

The Bonik Barta article also published a video of the police operation, and no signboard can be seen in the footage (archived link).

Manojit Kumar Nandi, officer-in-charge at the Gangni Police Station in  Meherpur,  told AFP that around 200 marijuana plants were uprooted and destroyed in the 2020 operation.

Officers did not find any signboard calling the site the "Bangabandhu Marijuana Farm", he said on February 13, 2024.