Saudi govt agents infiltrated Wikipedia, sentenced two to prison: Report

Users are not employees of Wikimedia and do not receive any compensation.

Riyadh: The Saudi Arabian government infiltrated Wikipedia and jailed its two high-ranking officials, in a bid to control the content on the website, activists, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) reported on Thursday.

Arrested in 2020, two high-ranking Wikipedia administrators, Osama Khalid and Ziyad al-Sofiani were charged with “swaying public opinion” and “violating public morals.”

The Specialized Criminal Court sentenced Khalid and al-Sofiani to five and eight years in Al-Haer prison in Riyadh respectively.

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DAWN further stated that the sources revealed that the government prosecuted them because they had contributed information deemed critical about the persecution of political activists in the country.

In September 2022, the Specialized Criminal Court increased Khalid’s sentence to 32 years for the same charges in what appears to be part of a broader campaign to impose harsh additional sentences against political detainees.

Even after their arrest, the Saudi Arabian government continued their infiltration of Wikipedia by recruiting the organization’s highest-ranked administrators to serve as government agents to control information about the country and prosecute those who contributed critical information about political detainees, said SMEX and DAWN.

Last year, after the investigation, Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia, terminated all of its administrators in Saudi Arabia in December.

“The Saudi government’s infiltration of Wikipedia with government agents acting as independent editors, and imprisonment of non-compliant editors, demonstrates not only its persistent use of spies inside international organizations but the dangers of attempting to produce independent content in the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s Executive Director.

She also said that Wikipedia is highly responsible for international organizations and businesses to assume their affiliates can ever operate independently of, or safely from, Saudi government control.

Wikipedia relies on varying ranks of volunteer administrators and editors, referred to as “Wikipedia users,” authorized by Wikimedia. Users are not employees of Wikimedia and do not receive any compensation.

However, Wikimedia has established the Wikipedia community rules to grant them privileges as trusted, independent editors who self-regulate and administer content on Wikipedia, according to the DAWN and SMEX.

Administrators have exclusive authorization to use tools to edit, delete, and protect content pages (meaning no one else can edit them), and to block and unblock lower-ranking users and editors.

“It’s despicable but entirely predictable that the Saudi government has prosecuted Saudis merely for posting content about the government’s human rights abuses,” said Raed Jarrar, DAWN’s advocacy director.

“But Wikimedia also needs to take responsibility for the fact that its authorized editors are today languishing in prison for work they did on Wikipedia pages,” he added.

Wikimedia appears to have acknowledged the infiltration as on December 6, 2022, the parent company of Wikipedia announced that it had banned 16 users for “conflict of interest editing” following an internal investigation it had commenced in January 2022, according to the DAWN and SMEX.

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