Fact Check: Was WHO Director-General Arrested for Crimes Against Humanity?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been a common target of conspiracy theorists, who believe the international body is part of a shady cabal of malevolent global actors.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, WHO and other organizations, like the World Economic Forum, have become the victim of vicious misinformation aimed at undermining and destabilizing their authority among the public.

Now, as cases of the COVID-19 variant BA.5 continue to spread in the U.S., groups like WHO are once again the target of mistruths, as they were at the height of the pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus arrives at a state dinner upon the visit of United Arab Emirates President at the Grand Trianon estate near the Palace of Versailles, south west of Paris, on July 18, 2022. False claims of Ghebreyesus getting arrested spread online in July, based on a satirical news story by a Canadian outlet. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

A tweet sent by an unverified user on 24 July, 2022, claims that the director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was arrested by Interpol for "crimes against humanity and genocide."

The Facts

Figureheads leading efforts to improve access to COVID-19 vaccines and stop the disease's spread have often been subject of swirling rumors and misinformation.

This year alone, the father of World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab was falsely accused online of being Hitler's "confidant," while Bill Gates (a regular target of conspiracy theorists) was misleadingly linked to the outbreak of monkeypox.

However, unlike in those cases where falsehoods were presented strictly as fact, the article about Ghebreyesus was picked up from "The Vancouver Times," which describes itself as the "the most trusted source for satire on the West Coast."

Although it's perhaps a matter of taste, it's not entirely clear which parts of the article are intended as comedic; within the same piece the author also mentions unfounded claims that Covid-19 vaccines are "dangerous," "untested" and have killed "hundreds of thousands of people worldwide."

While these comments may be intended as satire, their tone and language is an unexaggerated representation of the types of mistruths which have been commonplace throughout the pandemic.

Furthermore, while the aforementioned "About Us" section describes The Vancouver Times as a "satire" site, it also claims its work concerns "issues that affect conservatives" and that it is "not affiliated with the mainstream media." Arguably, these seriously minded statements do not reflect the typical tone of conventional satirical publications.

Conversely, the article also states that World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, Bill Gates and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau are also under investigation for similar crimes to Ghebreyesus, claims which are provably false.

Potentially confusing matters, the Ghebreyesus article does not clearly label itself as satire; the only easily accessible acknowledgement of this is in the "About Us" section, buried at the bottom of the website.

Regardless, the tweets about Ghebreyesus fail to acknowledge the story's supposed comedic origin, instead reporting its claims as strictly accurate.

False stories about the jailing of vaccine proponents and funders have been a recurring narrative since the start of the pandemic.

One such story from 2021 claimed Bill Gates had been "arrested with knife and menacing to microchip helpful bystanders," referring to an online conspiracy theory that baselessly suggests Gates is behind a plot to implant microchips via the COVID vaccines.

It was based on a true but unrelated story of another man, Willie Gates Jr, who had been arrested on suspicion of terroristic threats and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony.

Newsweek has contacted WHO for comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

The source of this rumor was a "satire" website that also made a number of patently false claims about Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab and Justin Trudeau. The social media posts, however, do not indicate that the story it was based on was a (supposedly) comedic article.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team