Photo of 'Turkish imam kissing earthquake hero dog' is doctored

A doctored photo claiming to show a Turkish imam kissing the paw of a dog who had saved people from the rubble of the devastating 2023 earthquake in Turkey has been shared widely online. While there have been genuine reports of dog rescue squads working in the quake disaster areas, the photo in the false posts actually combines a photo of an Iraqi cleric and a former Catholic priest from Poland. Both pictures have each circulated online for more than a decade prior the February 2023 disaster.

"This is Imam e Jamia mosque in Turkey kissing hand of the dog which rescued and saved lives of 3 people tangled in debris," reads part of the English text above a photo.

The photo purports to show a man wearing a brown robe and a dark cap bowing in front of a white dog and kissing one of its paws. Around him people smile as they watch.

The photo was tweeted on February 16, 2023, with an Indonesian caption that makes a similar claim.

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on March 14, 2023

The same photo circulated alsongside a similar claim elsewhere on Twitter here and here, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. It also appeared in TikTok and YouTube clips, racking up more than 7,200 views.

The image and the claim were also shared by social media users from Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Canada.

The death toll from the massive earthquake that rocked Turkey and neighbouring Syria in early February 2023 has surpassed 50,000 people, AFP reported on March 13, 2023.

While there have been reports about rescue dogs searching for survivors buried under the rubble, the photo has been digitally manipulated.

Reverse image searches on Google and Yandex, followed by keyword searches, found the photo is a combination of two photos that predate the earthquake by more than a decade.

Polish 'animal pastor'

The image of the dog appeared in a report about former Polish priest Tomasz Jaeschke, published by Polish newspaper Super Express on October 27, 2011.

The genuine picture shows Jaeschke kneeling while kissing a dog's paw while a crowd watches in the background.

Below is a screenshot of the Polish news report:

Screenshot of the Polish news report

According to the news report, Jaeschke, who hailed from the Polish town of Poznan, left the Catholic church to become an "animal pastor". He has since set up Animal Spirit Church, based in Berlin, a more recent report said.

The same photo was also published on the website of Animal Spirit Church here and its Facebook page here.

When contacted by AFP, Jaeschke confirmed that it was him in the photo. The picture was taken by an Italian photographer in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, he said.

"I was there to organise an event for animals," he told AFP on March 16, 2023. "It was a long time ago. I do not remember the exact date."

Iraqi cleric

In the altered image, a photo of another man is inserted into Jaeschke's picture.

AFP found the photo of the man in the brown robe was uploaded to a Flickr account belonging to Iraqi cleric and politician Ammar al-Hakim in 2011.

According to the caption, the photo -- which actually shows the cleric kissing the hand of an elderly man -- was captured during his visit to the Iraqi province of Basra.

According to Flickr's metadata, it was taken on March 24, 2011.

Below is a screenshot of the Iraqi cleric's photo on Flickr:

Screenshot of the Iraqi cleric's photo on Flickr

Similar photos of the politician with the elderly man were posted here and here on Al-Hakim's Facebook page on March 31, 2011, in a photo album titled "2011 Basra visit".

At that time, Al-Hakim was the head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), the country's largest Shiite political party. He resigned to set up his own political party, the National Wisdom Movement, in 2017.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the genuine photo of the Iraqi cleric (left), the manipulated image (centre) and the genuine photo of the former Polish priest (right), with corresponding features marked by AFP:

Screenshot comparison of the genuine photo of the Iraqi cleric (left), the manipulated image (centre) and the genuine photo of the former Polish priest (right)

AFP has debunked similar false claims about dogs who rescued survivors and found victims in the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria earthquake, such as here and here.