Syria Civil Defence volunteers known as the White Helmets have apologized for an “error in judgement” for recording a #MannequinChallenge video in war-torn Syria.
Earlier this week, Syrian opposition group Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) published the video using the latest social media trend #MannequinChallenge in an apparent attempt to “raise international awareness about the Syrian revolution.”
The staged video shows an injured man amongst the rubble of a building as two members of the White Helmets attend to the man as they appear “frozen in time,” following the style of other #MannequinChallenge videos.
The volunteer group works in opposition-held territory and has rescued thousands of people from buildings bombed in the civil war. The White Helmets have released several videos showing its members pulling civilians from the rubble of crumpled buildings destroyed by airstrikes.
In statement to the BBC, the Syria Civil Defence apologized Wednesday after facing heavy criticism over the video, while many on social media have raised doubts about other footage released by the group.
“The video and the related posts were recorded by RFS media with Syria Civil Defence (White Helmets) volunteers, who hoped to create a connection between the horror of Syria and the outside world, using the viral Mannequin Challenge,” the statement read, according to the BBC.
“This was an error of judgement, and we apologise on behalf of the volunteers involved. The video was not shared on our official channels, and we took immediate action to discipline those involved and prevent incidents such as this from happening again.
“Our volunteers are committed to saving lives by responding to, and reporting, war crimes in Syria. This leaves us open to attacks, not just from the bombs but from those who seek to silence us for telling the truth,” the BBC quoted the statement as saying.
Last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad lashed out at the White Helmets, claiming some of the footage released by the volunteers was faked. The president specifically attacked an iconic image showing a stunned, bloodied five-year-old Syrian boy sitting in the back of an ambulance after being rescued from the rubble following an airstrike, deeming the photo and video footage as being manipulated.
Speaking with Swiss broadcaster SRF, Assad said the images of the child were “forged.”
“You can have it manipulated and it is manipulated,” Assad told journalist Sandro Brotz. “I’m going to send you those two pictures and they are on the Internet, just to see that this is a false picture, not a real one. We have real pictures of children being harmed but this one in specific is a forged one.”
On Wednesday, the RFS issued a “statement of clarification” regarding the #MannequinChallenge video saying the Syrian “regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions.”
“The video is originally a short staged scene by RFS Media Office in contribution to the international #MannequinChallenge campaign. The video intends to raise international awareness about the Syrian revolution in general, and the members of the Civil Defense, highlighting their role and sacrifices in protecting and saving the lives of civilians in Syria,” the RFS said in a statement. “As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime, that has been killing Syrians for nearly six years, accusing RFS media office of creating fabricated videos of rescue operations by civil defense teams.”
The White Helmets were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for its work during the Syrian conflict and shared the 2016 Right Livelihood Award, sometimes known as the “Alternative Nobel,” with activists from Egypt and Russia and a Turkish newspaper.
-with a file from the Associated Press