“USA just discovered the man who manufactured and sold the Coronavirus to China,” claims a status update on a popular Kenyan Facebook group page, posted on 6 April 2020.
“Dr Charles Lieber, head of the chemistry and biology department at Harvard University, USA. He was just arrested today according to American department sources.”
The Covid-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China in December 2019, and has since spread across the world.
‘Out of context, inaccurate, misleading’
According to the report, Lieber was arrested for lying about having a contract with China’s Wuhan University at a time when he worked on research funded by grants from the US Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.
But the WCVB news report is from 28 January 2020. That’s more than two months before the 6 April Facebook post, so he wasn’t arrested “today”. And the report makes no mention of the coronavirus, let alone that Lieber’s arrest was because he had “manufactured and sold the coronavirus to China”.
And on 9 April WCVB published an article headlined: “Conspiracy and false claims surrounding Dr Charles Lieber, China and Covid-19 coronavirus”.
“We find one of our stories in the middle of a growing Covid-19 conspiracy online – a story that has been taken out of context and stamped with inaccurate and misleading headlines,” it says.
Arrest for ‘fraudulent statement’
On 28 January, the US Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the arrest of Lieber, at the time the chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. He was charged with “one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement”.
Court documents show that Lieber was arrested with two Chinese nationals. One was charged with “one count of visa fraud, making false statements and acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy” and the other with “attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China”.
The first US case of coronavirus was reported on 20 January 2020. Lieber was arrested on 28 January. Neither the official statement about his arrest nor the court documents link his arrest to the new coronavirus.
‘Natural animal origin’
The World Health Organization notes that the source of the new coronavirus is “unknown”.
“All available evidence suggests that Sars-CoV-2 has a natural animal origin and is not a constructed virus. Sars-CoV-2 virus most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats,” the organisation says.
A research paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature on 17 March 2020 concluded that “all the evidence shows that Sars-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus”. The scientists also said they did not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario was plausible.
A Harvard professor was arrested and charged in the US. But the arrest had nothing to do with Covid-19. And all evidence so far also shows that the new coronavirus was not “manufactured”. – Grace Gichuhi
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.
Fighting coronavirus misinformation
Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.
Learn more about the alliance here.
© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.