Russia Today faces backlash after tweeting 'hateful' photoshopped image of Afghan refugees carrying weapons
The tweet, which has since been deleted by RT, featured an image of an Afghan couple and their two young children on the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport, with assault rifles and RPG’s photoshopped onto the couple's backs.
In reference to an article published by Defense News, the image was emblazoned with the headline: "Up to 100 Afghan Evacuees On Intelligence Agency Watchlists – US official".
Russia Today's tweet, which received over 150 likes, read: "Are some terrorists getting a free ride out of Afghanistan?"
Dr Constanze Stelzenmuller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, shared a screenshot, calling it: "Disgusting".
Marietje Schaake, international director of policy at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center and a former member of the European Parliament, shared it alongside the original Reuters image, taken amid one of the largest evacuation airlifts in history after the Taliban militants took control of Afghanistan.
"An incredibly cynical and hateful photoshopped lie by RT, Russia Today," Schaake wrote.
Many Twitter users slammed the Russian state-funded broadcaster for promoting disinformation and fuelling anti-immigration sentiment.
The New Arab contacted Russia Today for comment on its post, which came a day before multiple explosions killed at least 95 Afghans who had gathered outside of Kabul airport and a nearby hotel hoping to leave the country before the international evacuation mission ends.
At least 13 US servicemen were killed also in the attacks that are believed to have been perpetrated by Afghanistan's Islamic State affiliate – ISKP.
Anna Belkina, Deputy Editor-in-Chief for RT, apologised for the image but maintained it carried a "labelling disclaimer".
"Nevertheless, shortly after its posting, it was removed in consideration of the sensitive nature of its content and to avoid any misunderstanding. We recognise that the post may have caused unintentional offence, and apologise," Belkina said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Russia appeared to be changing tack on its evacuation policy, which had been at odds with the West. It viewed the Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan as possibly contributing to the fight against the Islamic State group and other militant threats in Central Asia.
Four armed transport aircraft were set to bring over 500 Russian, Tajik, Uzbeks and others out, according to a statement from Moscow’s defence ministry.