This summer, the Swedish Red Cross Youth (RKUF) launched a global campaign to encourage people to discuss China's human rights record.
For the campaign, the RKUF chose five photographs apparently showing Chinese police attacking protestors. Each picture was then marked with a pictogram representing an Olympic sport. The advertisements carried the line: "Arranging the Olympic Games is not a human right. Continue the discussion at RKUF."
Simon Brouwers, head of communications at the RKUF, said "it was a perfect time to highlight" the topic about Tibet.
Let us leave for another day the discussion of whether a supposedly non-partisan organization such as the Red Cross should stick its nose into politics. I want to talk about the credibility lost after the fundamental error that the RKUF made in this campaign.
The pictures used apparently showed human rights abuses by the Chinese government and its military force. However, three of the pictures were, in fact, taken in Nepal, and the soldiers in blue uniforms were Nepalese, not Chinese as the advertisements implied.
What about the other two photographs, you ask? Well, they were indeed taken in China, but not at any protest, unrest or "crackdown". They were actually taken at an anti-terrorist drill and an anti-illegal stowaway mission carried out by the Chinese military, in the run-up to the Olympics.
I got in touch with the RKUF, and pointed out this error to Brouwers - remember he is the head of communications. He replied with this explanation:
The picture is from Tibet. It was taken at an anti-China demonstration outside the "Chinese embassy in Lhasa", where the Tibetan police attacked the protestors with riot sticks.
I am still appalled by the lack of basic knowledge on the issue that he and his team were supposed to be campaigning about. He does not even know that there is no "Chinese embassy in Lhasa". It makes me wonder if he even knows where Lhasa is.
After a few rounds of e-mails between myself, Brouwers and the head of the RKUF, they admitted that they had made an error and apologized. However, they chose to stick to their guns and keep running the campaign as if nothing had happened.