On June 6, 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation, the owner of Wikipedia, filed an appeal against a Moscow court’s order to remove prohibited information in articles regarding the war in Ukraine.
In their statement released on June 13th, the Wikimedia Foundation argued that “the information at issue is fact-based and verified by volunteers… its removal would therefore constitute a violation of people’s rights to free expression and access to knowledge.” Additionally, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia does not fall under Russian jurisdiction because it is a global resource available to anyone worldwide.
Wikipedia has consistently been an easily accessible online source of information, gathering material from hundreds of thousands of volunteers globally. It is routinely fact-checked, and its contributors take time to properly vet the details they publish. Therefore, Wikipedia is a credible source for documenting widely reported facts about the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s attempt to silence Wikipedia threatens to further harm regular Russian citizens who deserve to know about their government’s actions. The Wikimedia Foundation filing this appeal sends a clear message to the Russian government that they will not be deterred from spreading accurate news, a commendable pushback to Russian aggression.
Threats of legal action from Russia arose shortly after the initial attacks on Ukraine in late February 2022 when volunteers began posting information on Russian Wikipedia detailing the events that were taking place. Some of these articles include Russian Invasions of Ukraine (2022), Battle for Kyiv, War Crimes During the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Shelling of Hospital in Mariupol, Bombing of the Mariupol Theater, and Massacre in Bucha.
As early as March 1, 2022, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal agency in charge of monitoring and censoring Russian mass media sent a demand to the Wikimedia Foundation “to remove content related to the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine posted by volunteer contributors to Russian Wikipedia.” However, the Wikimedia Foundation defended all of the mentioned articles, expressing that they were centered around fact-based information. Later on March 31st, Roskomnadzor published a statement confirming their actions to “remove inaccurate information on the subject of a special military operation of the RF Armed Forces in Ukraine, aimed at misinforming Russian users.” When the Wikimedia Foundation defended and refused to take down the articles, a Moscow court issued a 5 million rubles (approximately $86,000) fine in April.
The legal standing that the Moscow court cited when issuing this fine was from a law enacted by President Putin in early March, which bans the spread of “false information about the activities of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” according to Kommersant, a Russian news source. Roskomnadzor argued that all the Wikipedia articles previously mentioned include prohibited information, and the Moscow court concurred with this finding.
This case with Wikipedia is only one instance within a larger issue where valuable information is being blocked from Russian citizens in order to protect the government’s image and shape the narrative surrounding the invasion of Ukraine. Since early March, social media and news coverage have drastically changed in Russia, with Twitter and Facebook being blocked and dozens of journalists being banned from the country.
As international news coverage becomes harder to access in Russia, it is critical that the Moscow court accepts the Wikimedia Foundation’s appeal and allows the continuation of its publications in Russia. Russians must be accurately informed about their government’s continued attacks on a sovereign state, and Putin’s administration must be held accountable for its role in this war. If millions of people do not have access to factual accounts of these recent events, it will be significantly more difficult to reach an end to the violence and begin taking steps toward negotiations.
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