Disinformation campaign targets France over protests in New Caledonia

During the protests in New Caledonia, France’s disinformation watchdog discovered multiple social media campaigns aimed at France and involving Azerbaijani agents.

VIGINUM discovered the massive and organized dissemination of obviously false or misleading content—photo or video montages—and blamed France for how it handled the situation in New Caledonia during the protests.

First, VIGINUM noticed the dissemination of an initial visual, which depicted a man with a bolt rifle in fire position on one side and a deceased Kanak protester on the other. The photomontage proclaims, either in French or English, that “French police are guilty of murder”, “The killings of Algerians persist”. This statement appears similarly throughout the publications accompanying the picture, along with the following hashtags: “#RecognizeNewCaledonia #EndFrenchColonialsm #FrenchColonialism #BoycottParis2024 #Paris2024”. 

Using the copy/paste method, 1,686 people posted this first move on X at 12:21 p.m., resulting in 5,187 original messages and 179 reposts.

For a total of 80 people, VIGINUM identified at least 145 publications on Facebook that were identical to those seen on X.

At least 86 accounts on X reference the presidential political party, Yeni Azərbaycan Partiyası, in their biographies, indicating a connection with Azerbaijani performers. Furthermore, the account @bafadarovislam, which was the first to disseminate this graphic, appears to belong to a guy named Islam BAFADAROV, who claims to be a YAP consultant.

Investigations into Islam BAFADAROV led to the apollo.io website, which mentions several of his work experiences and reveals the existence of a valid email account for the Azerbaijani presidential party, “@yap.az.”.

On May 16, 2024, VIGINUM detected a new video upload on X and Facebook. This film compiles numerous instances where French security forces allegedly injure or kill pro-independence activists. People shared this video in both French and English, captioning it “French police guilty of murder in New Caledonia” and using the hashtags “#NouvelleCalédonie #RecognizeNewCaledonia #EndFrenchColonialism #FrenchColonialism #BoycottParis2024 #Paris2024”.

On X, the first author of the second video is @ElmeddinBehbud8, who is a member of the Azerbaijani state agency “Council of State Support to NGOs” and has already been mentioned in various informational operations implicating Azerbaijani players. 

In addition, numerous users shared a movie utilizing the OLIMPIYA campaign codes, blending pictures of urban violence with photos of sporting events in order to target the JOP24 organization. Azerbaijani agents, according to 78 accounts, used the hashtags #Paris2024, #BoycottParis2024, and #NoParis2024 during a campaign in July 2023 to publish this video.

Protests in New Caledonia

On May 13, pro-independence forces’ dissatisfaction with electoral reform sparked unrest in New Caledonia, leading to the closure of the airport. People call them the largest in 40 years.

The international airport near the city of Noumea remains closed to commercial flights until Thursday, May 23, despite the insistence of some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, who want to evacuate their citizens as quickly as possible. 

Despite the arrival of a large police force of approximately 2,700, the situation is still very tense, and barricades remain on many roads. The police action that began on Sunday morning focused on regaining control of the highway between Noumea and the airport. 

Paris will hold a new meeting of the Defense Council to discuss the situation in New Caledonia. 

The French Interior Minister reported on the initial success of the operation. However, according to journalists on the ground, many of the destroyed barricades and checkpoints were rebuilt by the rebels shortly afterwards.

Large-scale protests in New Caledonia began a week ago. Local pro-independence forces are dissatisfied with the constitutional reform of the electoral law, which will allow residents who have lived in the territory for 10 years to vote in local elections. 

Opponents of the reform believe that it will strengthen pro-French politicians in New Caledonia and lead to further marginalization of the indigenous Kanak people.

In the 2021 referendum, New Caledonia overwhelmingly voted to renounce independence from France.

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