Fact check: Obama was not arrested before Biden’s inauguration, posts feature miscaptioned footage

A video of former U.S. president Barack Obama in a jail cell is being circulated on social media as alleged proof that Obama has been arrested ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. This claim is false: the footage shows Obama visiting the former jail cell of South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in 2013 and Obama has not been arrested.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The claim appears at the beginning of the conservative “America Divided Podcast” (here), where the host, Gage Nelson, says “some video has surfaced of former President Barack Obama in a jail cell and many are asking the question has Barack Obama been arrested," before showing the footage of Obama looking round a jail cell.

The clip is being shared with the caption, “BARACK OBAMA ARRESTED… 75 days after election day in America and, a NEW video surfaced of former President Barack Obama in a JAIL CELL leaving many to question… Was OBAMA ARRESTED?”

Users sharing the post have added captions including, “Truth” (here); “Everybody’s going to jail January 20th” (here) ; and “Hope it is true.” (here). 

The same footage was published by the Guardian newspaper on its YouTube page on July 2, 2013, with the caption “President Obama visits the prison cell on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years”, as seen  here  .

A Reuters photo of Obama visiting the cell in South Africa, matching the footage, is visible  here  .

Other footage of Obama visiting the cell can be seen on the official White House YouTube channel  here  .

Obama visited the cell on Robben Island near Cape Town in South Africa on June 30, 2013 to pay tribute to ex-inmate and former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who was then critically ill in hospital, and later died on Dec. 5, 2013 of a lung infection (  here  ,  here  ).

Obama has tweeted since this alleged “arrest”, as seen  here  . Reuters found no news reports suggesting Obama had been arrested. The Obama Foundation and The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Later in the same clip of the “America Divided” podcast, the host admits that the footage is from Obama visiting Mandela’s jail cell, saying, “no Barack Obama has not been arrested.”

Reuters has previously debunked another false claim that Obama was arrested which stemmed from a fabricated article (here).

The host also refers to an alleged arrest of Pope Francis, a false claim Reuters also debunked  here  .


False. The video used as evidence of Barack Obama’s (false) arrest is in fact one showing him looking around the jail cell of former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2013.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .