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Photo shows people praying in Bangladesh, not India

December 19, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: An image of people blocking traffic while praying on a highway was taken in India.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The photo was taken in Bangladesh, not India. Similar images of the same scene online show it was captured in 2020 during the Biswa Ijtema, an annual Muslim gathering in the town of Tongi.

THE FACTS: The image circulating on social media in recent days shows a large number of people on a highway, praying next to stalled cars and buses, alongside captions falsely claiming the photo was taken in India.

“Blocking traffic on a highway in India to perform Friday prayers. This doesn’t seem to me as a prayer; it’s a demonstration of numbers to intimidate others. Any attempt to ask them to move to designated prayer spaces will be labelled ’discrimination,” reads the caption on several widely shared Facebook posts of the image on Friday. The same photo and caption also circulated on Twitter.

But the photo was not taken in India, it was taken in Bangladesh during the Biswa Ijtema, according to Azim Khan Ronnie, a professional photographer based in Dhaka.

He took an almost identical image of the same moment that can be seen on Alamy, a stock photography agency. His image, dated Jan. 10, 2020, shows more of the scene but captures the same vehicles and people, most in identical positions on the road, as those in the photo shared on social media.

Ronnie told The Associated Press that many photographers captured the same image.

Another almost identical photo with the same people and vehicles by a different photographer on Alamy likewise describes the image as Muslims praying at the Biswa Ijtema on Jan. 10, 2020.

A bus in the center of the photo circulating on social media also places it in Bangladesh, as it features a logo reading “BRTC,” the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation.

The misleading posts come amid a spate of anti-Muslim content on social media in India, with Hindu nationalism on the rise under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Biswa Ijtema, or World Congregation of Muslims, takes place annually in Tongi, which is just outside of Dhaka. The congregation is believed to have started in 1949 and is one of the largest gatherings of Muslim devotees in the world, drawing hundreds of thousands of people every year.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.