A fake death, bullet casings and threats: Czech elections are marred by disinformation

Presidential candidate Petr Pavel waits for the start of a political debate at the National Museum in Prague, 8 January 2023
Presidential candidate Petr Pavel waits for the start of a political debate at the National Museum in Prague, 8 January 2023 Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
By Sophia Khatsenkova
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After fake text messages were sent out on behalf of Pavel's team, the presidential candidate had to take to social media to assure the public he was still alive.

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As the polls opened for the second round of the Czech presidential elections on Friday and Saturday, the leading candidate Petr Pavel found himself at the centre of a bizarre disinformation incident.

Multiple Czech news outlets and social media users said they received emails announcing the former general had suddenly died the night before the election.

The email included a link to a website nearly identical to Pavel’s official page. The people behind this strange announcement even went as far as to write an obituary for the candidate.

Pavel said the level of disinformation had hit a new low: “Yes, I'm alive. I never thought I would have to write this. Someone is sending out a fake version of my website with the news of my death on behalf of my spokesperson.”

A few hours later, the former general jokingly posted a tweet photoshopping himself onto the famous James Bond movie poster No Time to Die.

And even Pavel's opponent Andrej Babiš responded to the fake death announcement, commenting on Twitter: "Even though we are rivals, I absolutely agree with you."

"It's disgusting, and I'm sorry that anyone would stoop down to such a thing. The police should look into this thoroughly, just like they did with the anonymous person who threatened me," said Babiš.

The former prime minister claims he received death threats, and recently a letter with a bullet casing was mailed directly to his wife.

According to Czech media and other experts, the imitation website is anonymous, and the emails on that domain were routed through the Russian Yandex web portal, triggering suspicion that the Kremlin might be behind the disinformation attempt.

Filip Rozanek, a media analyst, said that "someone put in a lot of effort to hide their tracks and not be traceable."

Earlier this week, The Cube covered another slew of strange text messages some voters claimed to have received from Pavel’s team asking them to go to the nearest branch of the armed forces in order to receive equipment for mobilisation to Ukraine.

It is still unclear who is behind any of these fake messages.

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