Old photos of toppled phone towers falsely linked to protests in Pakistan-held Kashmir


A spokesman for Pakistan’s Kashmir government said there were no reports of cell towers destroyed during protests that rocked the region in May 2024, contrary to Facebook and X posts that purported to show photos of the damaged structures. The images — taken before the protests — show phone towers attacked in 2022 and 2023.

“Kashmiris are tearing down mobile phone towers now,” read a post on social media platform X that shared the photos on May 12, 2024.

“Kashmiris say that when we can’t get internet service in this difficult time, we don’t even need these poles of yours.”

The photos show a collapsed phone tower and a charred structure with a hole in the roof.

Four people were killed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir — a semi-autonomous region with its own regional government — after paramilitary troops clashed with protesters rallying against rising living costs.

The internet was largely shut down during the demonstrations, which ended on May 14 after organisers accepted a government offer for financial aid.

The Himalayan region is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim it in full.

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A screenshot of the false X post, taken on May 24, 2024

The photos were widely shared on X here, here and here and Facebook here, here and here in posts linking them to the protests.

However, Abdul Majid Khan, finance minister and spokesman for Pakistan’s Kashmir government, told AFP on May 24 there were no reports of cell towers destroyed during demonstrations in the region that month.

In reality, the photos show the aftermath of insurgent attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Balochistan insurgency

A reverse image search on Google found the photo of a collapsed phone tower in an article by Pakistan’s Daily Quetta Voice newspaper from June 4, 2022 (archived link).

According to the report, “unknown miscreants” planted an improvised explosive device that blew up the tower in Balochistan’s Bolan district.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but poorest province, is also home to several militant groups fighting for independence or a greater share of the region’s mineral resources (archived link).

The insurgents regularly target infrastructure such as railway tracks, powerlines and phone towers.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and Daily Quetta Voice’s photo (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and Daily Quetta Voice's photo (right)</span><span></div></div></div><div
Screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and Daily Quetta Voice’s photo (right)

The newspaper credited the photo to Yousaf Marri, who confirmed to AFP that he took it in Balochistan’s Barkhan district.

A reverse image search found the photo of a charred structure with a hole in the roof in an article about an attack on a different phone tower in Balochistan (archived link).

Indian news agency Asian News International (ANI) published the photo in a report on April 19, 2023 about a string of attacks on cell phone towers in Balochistan’s Kech district.

The photo was credited to ANI.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and ANI’s photo (right):

<span>Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and ANI's photo (right)</span><span><button

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo in false posts (left) and ANI’s photo (right)

The article also features Yousaf Marri’s photo but does not include an image credit.

ANI reported that Baloch insurgents targeted towers owned by Chinese telecommunication companies that they suspected of spying on them.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into Pakistan to boost the country’s infrastructure under its Belt and Road Initiative.

But Chinese-funded projects have sparked resentment, particularly among separatist groups, who say locals see little benefit, with most jobs going to outsiders.

AFP previously fact-checked misinformation following the unrest here and here.



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