Two conspiracy theorists who claimed a Victorian youth leader pretended to contract Covid-19 as part of a deal with the premier, Daniel Andrews, to spread fear about the pandemic have been forced to apologise.
Hassan, the executive director of non-profit organisation Youth Activating Youth, sent Fernandez and Panayides letters via his lawyers in August demanding the removal of material that he said defamed him.
The videos included claims that Hassan, who had posted pictures with multiple politicians including Andrews on his social media profiles, was paid to pretend he had contracted Covid-19.
Fernandez claimed he planned to lodge freedom of information requests to hospitals to prove Hassan was never admitted and said the “crisis acting” was part of an Andrews campaign of brainwashing.
He also claimed Hassan had likely associated with politicians who were paedophiles.
Fernandez claims Facebook warned him his account would be restricted for posting misinformation to his page, which he also uses to promote cryptocurrency opportunities and sell shungite, a crystal which he claims prevents the effects of 5G.
Panayides, who was charged by Victoria police in September with incitement for planning a protest against Covid-19 restrictions, had a substantial Facebook following when some of the videos were posted.
Both men offered unequivocal apologies on Friday afternoon for the videos, which were viewed tens of thousands of times.
“These representations that were made in relation to Mr Hassan were not based on any actual facts,” the men said in separate videos.
Hassan said he received death threats after the videos were posted. The catalyst for the conspiracy theory was an appearance he made on the Seven Network on 7 July to discuss his Covid-19 infection. He had also appeared on the ABC.
Hassan told Guardian Australia it was perverse that media interviews designed to inform the community about Covid-19 were instead used to further conspiracies.
“I’m happy the apology has come about, I just want these fellas to learn about their mistakes, and learn you can be held to account for what you say. I forgive them, but they need to make sure they don’t repeat it for someone else.
“A lot of people were messaging me in fear of really believing it.
“I was angry … it was very hurtful, to say the least.”