Myanmar Junta Accused of Using Deepfake Technology to Prove Graft Case Against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
By The Irrawaddy 25 March 2021
The junta’s attempt to prove the graft allegation against detained State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by showing a video clip of the detained Chief Minister of the Yangon Region who is alleged to have bribed her has met with public skepticism. Many citizens doubted the authenticity of the video, as the chief minister’s lip movements were not synchronized with the audio.
On March 11, the military regime’s spokesman alleged that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi accepted US$600,000 and more than 21 pounds of gold from U Phyo Min Thein, the head of the Yangon region, between December 2017 and March 2018.
A 4:43 minute-long video clip was shown during a press conference held by the junta’s spokesman on Tuesday in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw. The spokesman said that U Phyo Min Thein’s video offers proof of the allegations, in an effort to dispel public doubt over the case.
U Phyo Min Thein, who has now been detained by the regime, says on the video that he went to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at least three times to give her the money and gold, and that he helped lease a compound for the State Counselor’s charity, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, at a reduced price.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was detained by the military regime immediately following the military’s Feb.1 coup. The junta has filed four charges against the ousted State Counselor, including incitement, using a walkie-talkie without a license and breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
The regime has also accused her of graft in another case, alleging that a businessman gave a total of US$550,000 to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on four separate occasions between 2018 and 2020. But this businessman’s video clip also said that he gave her the cash “without witnesses present.” If found guilty on both counts the 75-year-old Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would face combined prison terms of 30 years—meaning that she would spend the rest of her life behind bars.
Many Myanmar netizens are skeptical about the veracity of the video clip showing U Phyo Min Thein, as his voice sounds different. Their concern is shared by the historian Dr. Thant Myint-U, who tweeted that, “I’ve met U Phyo Min Thein dozens of times and I agree this doesn’t sound like his voice at all.” The historian called also for the immediate release of U Phyo Min Thein and all other political prisoners.
Myanmar netizens have run a deepfake check to ascertain if the video has been manipulated or faked. Deepfake detection technology revealed that there is an 80% chance the video is a deepfake.
But a foreign media forensics expert said it is hard to say if the video is deepfake because the video has been compressed.
“Analyzing the video is complicated because the video quality is low and compressed. This makes it harder to run tests on it and harder to discern what is just low-quality video from what could be deliberate efforts to hide digital fakery,” said Sam Gregory, program director at the human rights and video organization WITNESS.
He told The Irrawaddy that expert opinion based on the video suggests that this is unlikely to be a deepfake video with a face swap, lips moving in sync with a fake soundtrack or an audio clone of the Chief Ministers’ voice, citing he and other who are experts on deepfake, audio, video and visual effects and who have run repeated tests on the video clip.
However, he added, “There are some confusing signs in the video – for example, digital artifacts around his mouth as it moves – but experts indicate that these are as likely to be from compression as from digital fakery.”
Sam Gregory’s organization WITNESS uses video and technology to protect and defend human rights. He said that the chief minister may have been made to read a statement from a teleprompter under duress.
“In human rights work globally we regularly see use of so-called ‘forced confessions’ where someone is forced to say something when they are held in detention. It seems more likely that this is a forced statement or confession than a deepfake,” added Gregory.
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